Parks commission considers facility-use fees

Thursday, April 15, 2021

The Eureka Springs Parks and Recreation Commission is considering charging fees for events held at the Lake Leatherwood City Park ballfields.

At a workshop on Tuesday, April 6, the commission heard from interim director Scott Miskiel about a few different proposed fees at the park. Miskiel said the commission hasn’t charged for the use of the ballfields for “many years.” The ballfields are a major maintenance expense at the park, Miskiel said, especially in the summer when it’s necessary to mow and weed-eat the area at least once a week.

“It takes a lot of time,” Miskiel said.

Miskiel said the commission isn’t charging the Eureka Springs High School’s soccer team and other groups to use the ballfields.

“That’s a big issue. Do we want to charge a fee for those sorts of things, or should that be just one of the services we provide to the community?” Miskiel asked.

Chairman Kevin Ruehle said the commission should speak with the groups that are using the ballfields before making a decision on charging them. Ruehle recalled when he ran a triathlon event at Lake Leatherwood City Park, saying his organization had to rent every campsite to avoid disturbing campers. He was also required to rent portable toilet

s, Ruehle said, so that everyone attending his event didn’t use the facilities at the park.

“It was not a small fee. It was the second largest check I wrote every year … to be able to use the park for two days, so I don’t think it’s the least bit unreasonable to look at fees,” Ruehle said.

Ruehle said the commission stopped charging fees for those kinds of events under former director Justin Huss.

“If it’s something that’s going to either disrupt normal park operations like we did with the campsites or use a facility that nobody else is going to be able to use for that period of time, then, yes, they should be paying a fee for it,” Ruehle said.

Miskiel presented a form for someone to fill out if they’re interested in using the ballfields, saying use of the ballfields can include soccer games, baseball games and other private events. Miskiel suggested charging $20 an hour to use the area, with an additional $20 per hour if the lights are being used.

Miskiel also presented the rates for tent camping: $19.50 per night for a site with an electric hookup, $14.50 per night for a site without electric hookup and $55 per night for the group campsite.

Miskiel said the prices are based on two people per site, with additional people costing $2 each. Ruehle said limiting the number of people at the site would be fine.

“Most of the campsites are fairly close to each other, so limiting the number of people per campsite is really more thinking about the other campers,” Ruehle said. “You don’t want to rent a campsite and have 15 people show up to stay on it.”

Ruehle said the commission could raise the camping fees and “still be the lowest around.” As for the event fees, Ruehle said, the commission would play it by ear.

“It should be based on disruption to regular park activities and if we are doing an event like Fat Tire [Festival] … I think we should require them to pay for the [portable] toilet facilities so that we’re not overloading the parks system,” Ruehle said.

The commission moved on to discuss the shuttle system at Lake Leatherwood City Park, with Ruehle saying the commission’s goal should be to get people to stay and eat in Eureka Springs after they’re done riding the trails.

Miskiel said the new booking software is going very well and would allow the commission to create packages, coupons or discounts for riders.

“If you get … three days worth of shuttle passes, maybe you get 10 percent off on a cabin or we could even co-op with local businesses where coupons are given,” Miskiel said. “We’re just scratching the surface on what that software can do for us. Just what it’s doing already is going well.”

Miskiel said the shuttle revenue is looking good so far this year. He budgeted $50,000 in revenue for the shuttles for 2021, Miskiel said, and the commission should exceed that number by the summer. Ruehle said the commission should do better than break even like it has in the past.

The shuttle operations should pay for trail maintenance, Ruehle said.

Earlier in the workshop, commissioner Dave Hartmann said the hiring committee recently met to start the process of hiring a new executive director. Hartmann said the commission needs to have a “tight job description” before hiring anyone for the position. The job description is still a draft, he said.

Ruehle said five years of experience in management and administration is “pretty light for this kind of position.”

“One of the things you got into last time is you had a director who didn’t have the experience and a lot of things he needed,” Ruehle said. “It really showed the weakness in that approach.”

Ruehle added that it needs to be clear who the executive director works for.

“The executive director and all of the parks staff work for the commission and not for the city of Eureka Springs,” Ruehle said.

Hartmann agreed but said he wasn’t sure that needs to be in the initial job posting.

“It just makes it clear to them that they work for the commission,” Ruehle said. “In looking at some of the commission issues, there was a lack of clarity between commission and staff both here and most recently at the CAPC as to who actually worked for who and it does need to be clear.”

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