Stanislaus County’s dire budget led Supervisors to increase fees charged at county parks and on county busses Tuesday.
“It doesn't look like we're going to be in any better shape for some time,” Supervisor Dick Monteith said.
The Stanislaus County Department of Parks and Recreation operates four regional parks: Frank Raines, La Grange, Modesto Reservoir and Woodward Reservoir. Those parks collect about $1.9 million annually, but that’s still $200,000 shy of costs, considering rising workers’ compensation, retirement costs and an expected $100,000 increase in Sheriff’s Department patrol services.
“About half of the increase is going to insure it's still a safe family environment,” County Supervisor Vito Chiesa said.
The revised fees, as adopted, raise most existing costs by $2 to $10. Some fees are much higher, though, like a refundable waterfowl blind permit deposit, which jumped from $75 to $300 after many hunters failed to remove blinds at the end of the season, causing extra work for county staff.
Some new fees are included, such as a $75 annual off-highway vehicle pass and a $20 surcharge for vehicles attending the annual fireworks celebration at Woodward Reservoir. Chiesa expects more visitors to carpool in response to the fireworks charge, and still suggests attendees arrive at the reservoir before noon on the Fourth of July.
“If they come four in a car instead of two in a car, it's probably a good thing for safety,” Chiesa said.
Other fees were deleted, such as a $2 walk-in or bicycle-rider fee, and a $15 undeveloped campsite camping option, as some “undeveloped” campers were instead camping in vacant developed campsites.
The fees were last amended in 2004. The new fees will go into effect June 10.
The County Parks staff is looking at alternatives to raising fees, including creative money generating ideas like selling grass and hay which grows on park land. A separate Tuesday agreement will see Parks sell that grass and hay for $7.50 per ton, while working with the South San Joaquin Irrigation District to implement a more lucrative no-till farming operation at county reservoirs.
County bus fees also rising
Stanislaus Regional Transit bus ridership has increased five percent over the past year, but increasing fuel, contract, and labor costs are forcing a fare increase.
The increase, approved Tuesday, will raise the cost of most rides by $0.25, to $1.50 for a general fare bus ride. Senior or disabled fixed route bus riders will be exempted from the increase, with a ride remaining flat at $1.
A current, $0.25 transfer fee will be eliminated entirely. The move will see riders who transfer from StaRT to the Bus Line Service of Turlock continue to pay $1.50, an effective non-increase.
Students will still be eligible for discounted 20-ride bus cards, but those too will increase a similar percentage, from $21.25 to $25.50. StaRT’s 31-day unlimited ride passes will not increase, remaining flat at $45.
StaRT had not raised rates in three years. Even with the change, riders can travel from Gustine to Oakdale for just $1.50.
The rate increase is driven by a federal mandate that StaRT must collect fares equivalent to at least 10 percent of the system’s operating cost. The remainders of operating costs come from state and federal grants.
“It still is a pretty good deal,” said County Supervisor Jim DeMartini. “We lose 90 cents on every dollar we spend on this, so it's a pretty good deal.”
The new bus fares will go into effect in August.
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