COVID-19 shutdown has cost parks and rec thousands in fees

The COVID-19 shutdown of Harlingen parks has resulted in financial losses for the Parks and Recreation Department. Although the parks are not a source of income for the city, the parks and city pools have to be maintained even though they are not in use. (Maricela Rodriguez/Valley Morning Star)

HARLINGEN — The COVID-19 shutdown has cost the city tens of thousands of dollars in lost user and registration fees, the city’s parks director told his board during their July 10 meeting via teleconference.

Javier Mendez, director of the Parks and Recreation Department, said the city has refunded advance registration fees for facilities and amenities due to the shutdown, and his department also suffered losses from the cancellation of popular summer leagues, like adult softball.

“So far, as of yesterday we’ve returned $7,000 of rentals for our pavilions,” he said at the meeting. “And it’s not just the parks, of course, but public buildings. We’ve returned $17,439 of rental fees.”

“That just kind of gives you an idea what we’ve lost for the summer in full,” he added. “We’ve estimated $65,000, and that’s from March through September, because we’re not going to open up the pools this summer at all.”

Mendez also told the board the parks department has nevertheless been occupied because his department also is tasked with maintaining public buildings as well.

“We’ve been very busy as far as sanitizing,” he told the board. “The other part of our responsibility of course is public buildings, and if anybody gets ill or tests positive, then we have to go out there and send crews to go and sanitize their work area. We’re just constantly trying to figure out ways to protect our staff and, of course, the public.”

Mendez said the losses for such things as pavilion rentals for family picnics and get-togethers, as well as other fee-based rentals of city facilities, is not necessarily a major financial blow to his department.

But he said these fees which are collected are important to help subsidize operating costs for the facilities.

“Some of these fees aren’t really to make a profit,” Mendez said. “But it’s pretty hard to sustain it because there are more expenses than what we collect. This kind of gives you an idea of where we’re at.”

“Of course, on the flip side of that, if you don’t have any programs then we don’t have any expenses,” he added. “There is a savings there on staffing and of course the benefits and all those that go with it.”

Bethsalee Flores, recreation supervisor for the parks department, said the canceled summer programs for kids’ camps and other offerings have led to substantial losses in fees.

“For the recreation part of the department, which is of course dance classes and arts, and all the summer all those special camps that we do like robotics, dance camp, that lost us $12,000,” she told the board. “For the summer playground program alone that’s another $12,000. So for my department the total loss is $24,593.”

Lupe Gonzalez, athletics supervisor for the department, said losses from softball and other leagues and ancillary funding streams like concessions have cost his area nearly $40,000 due to cancellations.

The COVID-19 shutdown of Harlingen parks has resulted in financial losses for the Parks and Recreation Department. Although the parks are not a source of income for the city, the parks and city pools have to be maintained even though they are not in use. (Maricela Rodriguez/Valley Morning Star)

“On the athletics side, with our spring summer and fall softball leagues, our spring we did actually get two weeks in before we shut down, but with the summer and fall the projections are based on the average of teams that registered the last three seasons or last three years,” he said. “We would be missing out on $27,350 on the softball side.”

“With no summer track this summer, we lost out on $4,375,” he added. “No seven-on-seven, that’s $3,200. And concessions, as far as the fees Kona Ice pays the city for being out at the adult softball complex, it was $3,458, for a grand total of $38,383.”

Mendez told the board that despite parks and the programs it oversees being shut down, maintenance still has to proceed at some facilities despite the closures.

“Like the pools,” he said. “We’re still maintaining them, the guys are going out there and adding the chemicals to keep the pools clean, but other than that, everything else is shut down.”

“The fields have been getting a much-needed rest,” he added.

rkelley@valleystar.com