Montgomery County community baseball leagues, campers and residents using park facilities might have to start paying more for permits to do so if the county's Planning Board approves proposed fee hikes this week.
Officials from the Montgomery County Department of Parks are asking board members to increase fees that residents pay to use park facilities such as athletic fields and picnic areas, which would go toward maintenance of parks. Overall, the department could see at least $230,000 annually from the increased costs.
But residents and community groups are saying that asking residents to pay more for public facilities will discourage people from using them.
Alan Friedman, volunteer coordinator for the Clarksburg Baseball and Softball League, said his group already pays thousands to use the fields. Under the new permitting requirements, Friedman said his organization will be paying upwards of $10,000 more annually.
"We are an all-volunteer, not-for-profit organization that provides a time-tested, traditional and financially viable option to local parents," he said. "The Planning Board's last field permit fee increase resulted in our organization raising rates, and we would obviously have to follow suit with this proposed fee increase."
Kate Stookey, a spokeswoman for the department, said this is the first time in three years that fees for residents to use public facilities have been raised. She said some of the fee increases and permits don't apply to every group, and the department will review every application.
Some residents say they understand costs are rising for parks and are not opposed to increased permitting fees but are concerned with an new "grounds fee" for wear and tear of park grounds during special events. The fees range from $400 to $1,000 per event and are based on the size of the park being used and the number of participants at an event.
Kensington Mayor Peter Fosselman told officials the fee shouldn't be applied uniformly to every event. He spoke on behalf of the Kensington 8K race, which is run partially on roads and trails in Kensington, which he said has a minimum impact on park grounds.
"If the primary reason for charging the grounds fee is to cover wear and tear of parks' grounds, there is a basis for charging a different amount to events that have a different impact on the actual wear and tear," he said.
Stookey said the department understands the financial implications for nonprofits and community groups using the parks but that the department runs on limited funds, as well.
The Planning Board is scheduled to vote on the increases Thursday.