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Menlo Park: Commission to continue study of nonresident recreation fees

This is an expanded version of a story previously published online.

Are people who don't live in the city paying too much for Menlo Park's recreation programs? The Parks and Recreation Commission recently took a look at whether a 35 percent surcharge is appropriate, and found the question intriguing enough to schedule a second discussion.

The "nonresident" category includes those living in unincorporated Menlo Park. In January the city received a letter from Jon Kossow, who lives in Menlo Oaks -- an area under county jurisdiction -- asking why his family had to pay more and wait to register for popular classes such as gymnastics.

"My interest here began when my daughter was 'shut out' of a town gymnastics program at Burgess," Mr. Kossow told the Almanac. By the time the one-week waiting period for nonresident enrollment ended, the class was full, although his daughter had been able to take the class twice before.

Mr. Kossow pointed out that families living in unincorporated areas still send their kids to Menlo Park schools, but between higher fees and late enrollment, children such as his daughter end up unable to take classes with their friends.

According to city staff, nonresidents make up nearly half of the participants in Menlo Park's recreation programs, with 16 percent coming from the unincorporated neighborhoods. The nonresident surcharge generates about $380,582 annually for Menlo Park.

A survey of other Peninsula cities found an average surcharge of 25 percent for nonresidents, the report said. One -- Foster City -- charges a flat $10 fee instead.

But some cities, such as Redwood City, Mountain View and San Carlos, don't charge those living in unincorporated areas more.

The surcharge in Menlo Park has risen over the years as the city works towards complete cost recovery for many of its recreation programs. In the past, the council has opted against subsidizing nonresidents, since the programs are financially supported by taxpayers living within incorporated Menlo Park.

Mr. Kossow has suggested that residents living within the Menlo Park zip codes, which include unincorporated areas of town, all be allowed to register on the first day of enrollment. Those in unincorporated neighborhoods would pay 10 percent more; all other nonresidents would have the one-week waiting period and continue to pay a 35 percent surcharge. In addition, he said, households should be able to register only people living in their household -- that is, "someone cannot register nine kids for gymnastics when they only have two kids living in their home."

After listening to Mr. Kossow's presentation during a meeting on March 26, the parks and recreation commissioners opted to table the matter until staff could return at a future date with more information about the city's history of allowing priority registration for residents, the distinction between residents in unincorporated Menlo Park and other nonresidents, household eligibility, and discrepancies between what information Mr. Kossow provided and what was in the staff report, according to Community Services Manager Derek Schweigart, who serves as staff liaison to the commission.

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