Perhaps a distinction needs to be drawn between essential public goods and services that benefit the entire community and those that are used by a subset of the community. Essential items include things like schools (even though one can argue that they are not used by all members of the community), roads and sidewalks, police and fire departments, and a range of other items. Goods and services that benefit a subset include things like fitness centers, libraries, dog parks, classes and programs, and something I learned about recently, paper shredding services. Arlington does charge user fees (registrations, memberships) for a number of these "subset" but not all of them. In drawing on the cost recovery model used by the Department of Parks and Recreation, in which the County sets fees to recover the direct costs of running the program, perhaps this model could be extended to other types of goods and services. Would users of dog parks, libraries, and shredding services be willing to pay a little bit more to support and retain these services? There are many that I personally do not use and would not mind seeing eliminated, but they are important to others. It's easy to charge user fees for classes, sports groups, and fitness centers, but much harder to charge fees for an open access, public good like a park, but I'm sure that there are ways to figure this out. I am very close to the sports community and most familiar with these equities. While no one likes fee increases, I suspect that sports leagues might support a slight increase in the field fee, for example. Users of our pools and fitness centers might be willing to support fee increases if this prevented a reduction in operating hours. Perhaps library patrons would be willing to pay a small fee to obtain or renew a library card to stave off further reductions in operating hours and services. If it turns out that users are not willing to make such adjustments, then perhaps these become areas where the County can identify possible budget reductions. Speaking for myself, I could do without street cleaning, free paper shredding (I pay to have my papers shredded), and leaf vacuuming (I have LOTS of leaves and love this service but I can find other ways to manage). I would be willing to pay a fee to use the County's mulch yard. In terms of areas for increased revenue, DPR should probably reevaluate its fee structure, as fee revenue has fallen off in recent years. DPR could also proactively look for ways to collect rental income on some of its underutilized assets. For example, there is much demand for field space in the DC metro area, and there are private leagues who pay money to rent out field time. While it's a fine balance between ensuring our schools and sports leagues have sufficient field access, there are inevitably times when the fields are not used, and these times are fairly predictable (Sundays before noon, for example). Private leagues might be willing to rent these times from DPR (and in fact, I'm told that they ARE willing to do so but have been unable to secure the space from DPR in the past).
Idea No. 41