Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bloomberg Proposes Rise in Recreation Center Fees by Javier C. Hernandez -

King Bloomberg in an act of utter hypocrisy is doubling fees for recreation across the City after he and Parks Commissar Adrian Benepe wanted to destroy the Ridgewood Reservoir, a beautiful natural area to build baseball fields as a ruse to eliminate teenage obesity...How much longer does his term last..?

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He has implored New Yorkers to cut down on salt, to stop guzzling sugary drinks and to think twice about the calorie content in extra-tall lattes and grande burritos. But Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s latest idea may actually make it harder for New Yorkers to stay fit.
To help close a $2.4 billion budget gap, the Bloomberg administration has proposed doubling the admission fee at the city’s 32 recreation centers and increasing the fee to play on tennis courts and ball fields.
Under the plan, adults would pay $150 each year for access to recreational centers with pools, up from $75. At centers without pools, adults would pay $100 instead of $50. Children under 17 would continue to be admitted free, and senior citizens would face a modest raise, to $25, from the current $10 each year.
The proposed increases are a tiny part of Mr. Bloomberg’s strategy to find new revenue as the city prepares for drastic, across-the-board cuts, including major decreases in the teaching force and cutbacks in services for vulnerable children.
But the higher recreational fees may prompt some of the most visible ire, given that about 174,000 people use the centers. The city must hold a public hearing before the increases go into effect, but it has not yet been scheduled.
Under the plan, the Parks and Recreation Department would also increase the cost of tennis court permits to $200, from $100, and the fee for lighted ball fields would rise to $50, from $32.
The increases would be instituted sometime before June 30, and according to city estimates could potentially generate $1 million for the city this fiscal year, which ends then. In subsequent years, the increases could yield $4 million a year in revenue.
Mr. Bloomberg, asked about the possible increases on Tuesday, said the city faced grim choices and could not afford to pay for everything that served a public need. He noted that free subway rides were not fiscally feasible, even though they might encourage public transportation and benefit the environment.
“Make no mistake about it: we will not be able to do everything that we did in the past,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “There will be no sacred cows.”
Public health advocates and policy experts said the proposal could undermine a hallmark of Mr. Bloomberg’s tenure: turning New York City into the weight-watcher capital of the world, replete with calorie counters and advertisements comparing soda to liquid fat.
Yevgeniya Bukshpun, a policy analyst at the city’s Independent Budget Office, said the effects of higher recreational fees could be particularly severe in poorer communities, where diabetes and obesity are more prevalent.
“The fee increase may seriously undercut access in low-income communities that are likely to be especially sensitive to price increases,” Ms. Bukshpun said.
Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, said the city should not “pick the pockets of our residents with nickel-and-dime increases,” like the higher fees. “The cost of living in New York is high enough,” Ms. Quinn said in a statement. “Let’s not, as a government, add insult to an already challenging situation.”
The city estimates that membership would decline about 5 percent if the higher fees were instituted. When the city made fees mandatory at all centers in 2006, standard adult membership dropped nearly 40 percent. The fees have not changed since, and membership has climbed steadily. Parks officials emphasized that the increases were still under review and that the city was working to expand its free offerings, like running trails, bike paths and bocce courts, and recreation classes in some low-income neighborhoods.
“Even with the fee increase, recreation centers are still a bargain, and we would rather raise the rates for everyone instead of closing sites” or eliminating programming, said Vickie Karp, a parks department spokeswoman.
At St. Mary’s Recreation Center in the South Bronx on Tuesday, reactions to the proposal were mixed. C. J. Hines, 32, a member for the past year who uses the center’s computers and weight room, said he would probably switch to a private gym if the increases were instituted.
“You can’t say, ‘I’m going to charge double and keep everything the same,’ ” Mr. Hines said. “That’s like saying today a Big Mac is $5 and you go back next week and it’s $10, but it’s the exact same Big Mac. You’d be a fool to buy that.”
But Natlynn Haywood, 62, a retired social services worker who recently joined the center, said she would not mind paying more for its facilities, which include a pool, dance room and basketball court. Still, she added, “for other people, that could be a hardship.”
At the Hansborough Recreation Center in Harlem, Craig M. Woods, 49, a longtime member, said he did not understand the rationale behind the proposal.
“You’re raising the price in the wrong area; we’re all poor here,” said Mr. Woods, a martial arts and fitness instructor. “Mayor Bloomberg needs to take a second look and see what damage could be done.”

Elizabeth A. Harris and Tim Stelloh contributed reporting.