Park perks: Allegheny County residents deserve the lower fees

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Allegheny County has made the right call by deciding that people who don't live in the county must pay more than residents to use its park facilities. New rates that went into effect over the weekend for its ice skating rinks reflect the new policy, and it will apply to all of the county's park facilities going forward.

The county's parks offer a wide range of activities -- skiing, snow tubing, skate boarding, golf, swimming and tennis -- and they allow individual and group rentals for its pavilions, ball fields, Hartwood Acres and other facilities. County residents support all of it with the property taxes they pay and through the Allegheny Regional Asset District's 1 percent sales tax. Although nonresidents also pay the 1 percent tax on most items they purchase within the county, the bulk of the funds to operate these regional amenities comes from county residents.

Allegheny County residents deserve some accommodation on the fees in recognition of their contributions.

In the summer, county council adopted and Executive Rich Fitzgerald signed an ordinance raising fees for most of its park offerings, with the most significant hikes coming on rentals of Hartwood's mansion and terrace, for holding road races and walk-a-thons in the parks, and for use of ball fields. In addition, the ordinance sets an across-the-board charge of 25 percent on top of all parks fees for nonresidents.

The idea of charging residents less than nonresidents is nothing new. Most municipalities already do so for use of their swimming pools, exercise equipment, facility rentals and more. As long as Allegheny County's fees continue to be comparable to, or less than, their competition, the dual rates are reasonable.

On the first weekend of operation this season, the new fee structure at North Park's ice skating rink raised few complaints. Charges of $6 for nonresidents -- $1 higher than the rate for county residents -- is comparable to the cost of skating at privately owned ice rinks in the region. County pools, golf courses and other facilities, likewise, are the same or cheaper than most in the region.

When it comes to using county facilities, it's only fair that county residents get a little break in recognition of their other financial support for county parks.

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