Allegheny County rinks charging higher fees for nonresidents

Ice now open at North Park, South Park

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The sign on the window at the North Park ice skating rink on Sunday put the message right up front: "Resident/nonresident rates are now in effect. Please have ID ready upon approaching the cashier's booth."

With winter fast approaching, the outdoor rinks at the county parks -- there's another at South Park -- have reopened for the season.

Though the North Park ice rink looked much the same it always has -- wooden benches for changing into skates, signs explaining how the lockers work, and a booth selling hamburgers for $3.75 and funnel cakes for $4 -- the two-tiered fee structure separating Allegheny County residents from everybody else is new.

"I can't say we've had any complaints," said Megan Shearer, who was working the pay booth Sunday morning. It's her first year in the job and the rink reopened only on Friday, so there's not a lot to report yet.

The county parks system is dealing with costs that don't balance with available funds, and Allegheny County Council this summer approved a new schedule of fees for using the facilities that includes charging those who live outside the county a bit more.

"This is kind of a pilot program," Councilman Nick Futules, D-Oakmont, who serves as chairman of the county's parks committee, said Friday. "We're going to see how it works."

Mr. Futules said more than half of the parks budget comes from the Allegheny Regional Asset District revenues generated by a county sales tax. "If you don't live in Allegheny County, you don't contribute," so it made sense to charge nonresidents a bit more.

Not that the county plans to be hard-line about it, he said. Children dropped off at the ice rink won't get in trouble for not having ID. "We're not trying to discourage anybody from coming to the parks."

Mr. Futules is not expecting to collect a lot more -- maybe several hundred thousand dollars across all of the parks' facilities year-round -- but the county needs to get creative in figuring how to pay for millions of dollars worth of needed maintenance.

On Sunday, the new fee structure got a few cheers and a few shrugs, but no penalties. "I kind of look at it as getting a discount," said Brad Makela of Wexford, who was at the rink with his wife, Julie, and 3-year-old son, Joseph. "It makes sense."

Beaver County resident Leslie Dennis of Hopewell came with her husband, Ryan, and 3-year-old son, Justin -- they're friends with the Makelas -- and she had seen the rate policy online before driving to the rink.

Even at the stated general admission rates of $5 for Allegheny County adults and $6 for nonresidents, the two families said the price seemed competitive with other places they've skated, although the county facility is more stripped down than some private facilities.

Shaler resident Gretchen Mills, who was at the rink with her 7-year-old daughter, Maggie, and Maggie's 7-year-old friend Hannah, cheered the new policy. She knows people who have moved across county lines to get lower taxes and then continue to take advantage of the amenities that Allegheny County taxes support.

Meanwhile, Joe Saber of Hampton had mixed feelings. He didn't object specifically to the ice rink rate hike for noncounty residents, but he thinks governments need to be careful about creating new revenue sources. "They need to set a budget and stick with it," he said.

Teresa F. Lindeman: or at 412-263-2018.

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