Official says BREC may need to increase some fees in 2014

BREC officials have not ruled out a fee increase in 2014 for those visiting popular recreation attractions such as the Baton Rouge Zoo or Liberty Lagoon Waterpark.

East Baton Rouge Parish Recreation and Park Commission Superintendent Carolyn McKnight said additional revenue could be needed to help manage the system’s improvements, operations and maintenance.

“We’re not anticipating that fees will go up, but as we go through the budget process, it may become necessary. We try to stay in the range of the cost of going out to a movie,” McKnight said this week.

McKnight is scheduled to give a presentation Monday to the Baton Rouge Press Club on BREC’s budget as well as an update on capital improvements.

McKnight said the system’s 2013 budget revenue breaks down to 75 percent from a dedicated property tax and 21 percent from money paid to participate in activities or visit attractions. Four percent comes from grants and other sources.

BREC does not receive any revenue from sales taxes.

“I have told my people that we need to find new fees for new programs that are affordable,” McKnight said.

BREC’s revenue stream also relies on the 2014 renewal of BREC’s dedicated property tax of 6.2 mills which is used to pay for capital improvements and general fund operations

McKnight said it would be a challenge to cover all expenses solely through a millage renewal.

The millage renewal vote is not the only highlight for BREC in 2014.

The majority of construction projects under BREC’s “Imagine Your Parks” plan should be completed by the end of 2014.

Voters went to the polls in 2004 and approved the 20-year, $70.5 million program to improve or create community and neighborhood parks and special facilities.

The “Imagine Your Parks” tax was a 3.2-mill property tax.

BREC borrowed $13 million last year to keep the special parks program moving ahead with capital improvements. Borrowing money before collecting the tax revenue allowed BREC to take advantage of low interest rates.

One of the projects in the plan is a 7.4-mile trail system that will connect Essen Lane, the Perkins Road Park, Pennington Biomedical Research Center, the LSU Rural Life Museum and Perkins Rowe. The first phase will be a 2.2-mile section from the Mall of Louisiana to Picardy Bridge then to Siegen Lane, which could be open in the fall.

McKnight and other BREC officials are looking forward to seeking public input to determine what BREC should offer residents beyond the 20-year “Imagine Your Parks” plan.

“Right now I call it a new imagination. That’s not what it will be called but we need to start thinking about a new direction,” McKnight said.