Dover City Council voted 6-3 to charge non-residents for recreational, open gym use at the John W. Pitts Center with an exception for poor youths during its meeting held Monday night in City Hall.
Open gym time is when people come in to walk early in the morning or play basketball during the day at the Pitts Center's gym, part of the city's Recreation Division, Dover Director of Planning & Community Development Ann Marie Townshend said. However, city staff determined that revenue needed to be increased 4 percent annually, or $5,000, in order for the gym to break even.
A demographic study of gym card users showed that non-residents were coming from Camden, Magnolia, Milford, Clayton, Smyrna and Wilmington, Townshend said. Moreover, a majority of those non-residents came from more affluent developments such as Cardinal Hills, Old Mill Acres and St. Jones Commons, etc., said Townshend, who is also director of the Department of Parks & Recreation.
As such, Townshend proposed charging individual non-residents $50 annually or $15 per quarter and $100 per family or $30 per quarter. She said gym users could also opt to pay $3 daily for use of the open gym, which operated 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday.
However, the city did not want the policy to adversely affect some users who came from low income areas such as General's Green, Capital Park and Rodney Village, Townshend said.
"It really is economically all over the spectrum," she said. "However, the underprivileged would be able to use the gym for free."
To address this issue, Councilman David Anderson had proposed an amendment to accept the proposed fees with the stipulation that the city establish scholarships for people receiving government aid, namely EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer).
In addition, Townshend said senior citizens would be exempt from the fees.
Councilman Sean Lynn said he could not support the proposal because of what he believed would be an adverse effect on at risk youths from Kent County.
"I want our local youths to be involved in sports," Lynn said. "They're going to come to Dover anyway. I want them in sports to keep them out of trouble. For $5,000 this just isn't worth it to me.
"I would remind the city that Kent County donated some of the funds to build the Pitts Center," he added. "You can't deny Kent County residents [free entry]."
Townshend acknowledged that Kent County Levy Court had helped pay for the construction of the Pitts Center in Dover. But, she said Kent County had gotten a return on its investment because suburban residents had benefited from the ability to participate in the city leagues, classes and any program held at the Pitts Center for the same fees as city residents.
Page 2 of 2 - Nonetheless, Lynn, citing his experience as a teacher in the Bronx, N.Y., felt the stigma associated with subsidized open gym fees would deter several youths from coming back to the gym.
Councilman David Bonar disagreed.
"They'll play for free," he said.
In the end, Lynn, Anderson – his amendment notwithstanding – and Councilman Wallace Dixon voted against the measure while the majority of council voted for it.
DOVER CITY COUNCIL VOTE
Dover City Council voted to approve fees for non-residents taking advantage of the open gym time at the John W. Pitts Center in the city. Here is the breakdown: