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Summer decisions: Ephrata keeps non-resident parks and rec fees, will close city hall earlier for next two months

by CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE
Staff Writer | May 18, 2023 5:20 PM

EPHRATA — People living outside the Ephrata city limits will still pay non-resident fees to participate in city recreation programs and use city facilities like the Splash Zone following Wednesday’s regular meeting of the Ephrata City Council.

“What we’re up here for is to represent the citizens of Ephrata,” said Mayor Pro-Tem William Coe. “Those citizens are the ones that use their tax dollars to pay for our infrastructure … . And so they are paying a fee, in the form of taxes, to have some of those amenities that we cherish.”

Coe was responding to a proposal to eliminate non-resident park and recreation fees from the city’s Park Commission that anyone living in the city’s zip code of 98823 should be eligible to use city parks and recreation facilities and programs for the same rate as city residents.

“This is the second time this has been before council went back to the Parks Commission for discussion,” Interim City Administrator Kurt Adkinson said. “Parks is sending it back to the council and their recommendation is that non-resident fees should be eliminated.”

According to Adkinson, the city would only lose about $8,000 in revenue if it eliminated non-resident fees, but Coe said given the status of the city’s parks — dilapidated restrooms, a crumbling pickleball court residents are trying to raise money to replace, the need for at least one more park — it would be foolish of the city to forgo any revenue.

“Every little bit helps and if we’re saying that we are truly interested in supporting parks and rec in Ephrata, I think we need to act that way,” Coe said. “With that in mind, I think that we should maintain the difference just like other entities.”

Council Member Valli Millard agreed, noting that fees do not cover the cost of Parks and Recreation Department programs, most of which are supported by tax dollars.

“Even though it’s only $8,000, that’s still an employee for the summer,” Millard said. “That’s one of our part-time kids working out there.”

The council did not act on the proposal, leaving additional non-resident fees in place.

The city of Ephrata budgeted $1.6 million for Parks and Recreation programs in 2023, with about $85,000 of that expected to come from activity fees charged for Splash Zone — admissions, passes and party permits — and another $60,000 anticipated to come from recreation program fees, including swimming lessons.

For 2023, the city council approved a budget for Splash Zone of $359,000, including $224,000 for wages and benefits.

Adkinson also told the city council that city hall will be closed at 4 p.m. for the next two months after a study found few people call or come in between 4-4:30 p.m., when city hall currently closes.

“We did a two-month counter-contact phone study, and we were finding out that we were having less than one counter-contact or phone call between 4 o’clock and 4:30,” he said. “We are still offering what in many instances are nontraditional times for our citizens to get in. We’re open at 7:30 in the morning. We do not close during the lunch hour.”

Adkinson said closing a half-hour early would help the city be a little more efficient and eliminate the need for one staff person to remain in the building until 4:30 p.m.

Council members did not comment on the change of operating hours for city hall.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com.

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FILE PHOTO

Ephrata city amenities such as the Splash Zone will continue to assess a fee for nonresidents to use them after the Ephrata City Council voted to keep the fees in place Tuesday evening.