By Heidi Zemach for SCN-
Those still looking for a safe, supervised, fun and affordable day camp to send their children this summer can breathe a sigh of relief. With the Seward City Council’s stamp of approval, the Seward Parks and Recreation Department has been allowed to lower 2014 summer camp fees back to pre- 2011 levels, when the camp had as many as 70 children attending, and a waiting list to get in.
The move reduces the regular camp fee from $110 per week to $60 dollars per week, with $70 per week for late payments, while also maintaining the Tier I and II levels that had allowed those who can prove lower incomes to get their fees cut in half again to $30 per week. Adventure Camp rates, for a limited camp that offers increased outdoor activities and opportunities for children in the upper grades, were reduced to $100 per week (from $160) , or to $50 for those who qualify for the lower tiers.
The tiers were instituted in 2011 to offset the rates that were abruptly more than doubled in 2011 by a City Council and Parks and Rec department looking for places to reduce city department budgets. The tiered approach came afterwards, when council members, led by the late Vanta Shafer, questioned whether the increases would be fair to parents who could ill afford them.
Council also amended the fee structure to charge half rates for the third child attending from the same family or any subsequent children. Calling the system of fees confusing for parents, council also did away with the lower EarlyBird fee, by which those who enrolled their children three weeks prior to the camp paid less. Council Member Rissie Casagranda, who has three younger children, said it discriminated against procrastinators like herself.
The early bird registration was helpful to the department in planning for staffing and for purchasing items that would be needed for campers, said Parks and Recreation Director Karin Sturdy. But, her staff admitted that not many parents actually availed themselves of the opportunity.
Teen Youth Center building where the summer day camps begin and end the day. Heidi Zemach photo[/caption] Fearing another summer of low attendance, Sturdy had recently asked council for the fee reductions.In fact, only 12-15 children had been signed up for this week of camp, eight of them with camp scholarships not related to the two tiers. By Wednesday afternoon, four additional children had been signed up for the camp program due to the new fee reductions. The increases in 2011 were originally intended to charge consumers for the perceived or real value of the summer program, and to reflect going rates for other summer day camps, Sturdy said. The higher rates, they reasoned, would have the effect of lowering the city’s own subsidies for the program. Some on council had been critical of the concept of a city program with subsidized rates competing with private enterprise. But the higher fees had actually cut average attendance by more than half, with an average of about 35 children attending weekly. Only one family had taken advantage of the lower-tiered fees offered.
Christy Terry, another council-mom with youngsters, admonished Sturdy for failing to supply good budget numbers to the council in a timely fashion reflecting the true cost of running the summer day camp. The figures they did get, not long before the evening meeting began, did not seem to make sense.
All of the Parks and Rec programs are heavily subsidized, Sturdy countered, so it’s very difficult to evaluate the true cost of its youth programs and activities as they have never budgeted accurately. The programs often get help from volunteers, and receives donated services and material goods, all of which would be very difficult to quantify, she said. Regardless of the cost to the city, what matters to her is that more children get the care and attention that they deserve.
Seward parents have many choices available for the summer, including summer school, the $50 per week half-day Boys & Girls Club Da Vinci Science and Art Camp in June, a week-long Bluegrass Camp in July, various church camps, home-based day cares and private sitters. But the summer is long for working parents, many of who must work more than one job in the busy tourist season, and there are unfortunately still many young latch-key children who stay at home alone or with older siblings at least some of the time.