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Peter’s Take: Righting a Wrong on Sports Fees

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter Rousselot

A new report concludes that Arlington County charges excessive fees to Arlington residents participating in certain sports classes and teams.

In direct contravention of long-standing Arlington County policies, the participation fees substantially exceed 100 percent of the direct participation costs. Currently, the excess revenues are being funneled back into the County’s general fund operating budget.

A firestorm engulfed the Arlington County government last year — when the County Board initially adopted and then rescinded a 50 percent fee increase for nonresident participants on gymnastics and aquatics/swimming teams. That led to the new disclosure that resident participants are being overcharged for certain sports classes and teams.

A work group, comprising citizens, commission members and county staff, prepared the latest report. The new report reflects careful study, and contains thoughtful reform recommendations.

The work group also appears to be listening to citizens’ concerns:

As part of its process, the work group collected public feedback on a set of draft recommendations through an Open Arlington survey. The work group will continue its research to develop a recommendation regarding alternatives to the County operating the team program… This research will include opportunities for public input …

There are only two logical explanations for these county policy violations: The current, excessive fees were set

  • inadvertently, because the County lacks sufficient auditing and financial controls to detect errors like these, or
  • deliberately, as a backdoor way to generate additional revenue that would offset budget shortfalls in other programs or areas.

Neither explanation paints county government in a sympathetic light.

Assuming that these fee overcharges are inadvertent, a recent letter to the Sun-Gazette‘s editor makes the following observation:

All of this could have been prevented had an inspector general or internal auditor been present to conduct regular reviews of the finances of the Department of Parks and Recreation. The County Board owes it to residents to ensure that they are being charged fees in line with the policies it has established …

The growing demand for these youth sports programs illustrates that our public schools are not the only public facilities strained by Arlington’s rapid population growth. We have a youth sports capacity problem, too.

We must plan to accommodate more gymnasts and swimmers (among others). This provides yet another reason to deep-six the extravagant $80-plus million Aquatics Center, and redirect those funds to youth and other sports programs countywide.

CONCLUSION

Arlington County must take greater care not to violate its own policies by inflating user fees above what is needed to cover the costs in the program for which the fees are being charged.

Government exists to serve the people, not the other way around.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

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