AIKEN, S.C. (WJBF) — Some Aiken residents are speaking out about a fee increase involving the parks and recreation department.
Many people serve, drop, and strike the pickleball at Odell Weeks Activity Center. It’s a sense of community with these players. “It’s definitely keeps seniors active,” Linda Bourbeau told NewsChannel 6’s Aiken Bureau Chief Shawn Cabbagestalk. “That’s what we need to do as we get older,” she added. “For me, it’s a life and death matter,” George Buggs shared. “I am 75 years old, have a pacemaker, and I bounce around here every day. As long as God will, I will be here playing pickleball,” he added.
Now changes are happening, which may make the game more costly. “Some of the people in my district, my constituents, who were very concerned about the fee increase and the fact that it, it was going up about 200%,” Aiken City Councilwoman Gail Diggs recalled. “A large majority of my constituents are on fixed incomes,” she added. “So for me and my husband to come and join, it would be $300 a year. And that’s a good bit of money for an increase when it was $150,” Howell said. “The daily rate went from two to $10, which makes it hard for beginners to come and try it out,” she added.
A fee increase went into effect on April 1. City leaders say the parks, recreation, and tourism department looked at the current charges and compared them to other areas with similar facilities. “One of the things we noticed was that we were about the only entity that was charging based on the activity versus a flat fee. “That caused a lot of confusion,” Aiken City Manager Stuart Bedenbaugh shared.
If the increase is needed, some say city leaders should consider other options. “I would like to see the payments, the schedule for a fee be based on everybody above the poverty level,” Buggs said. “If you are below the poverty level, I think you should have the option of coming in and using all the facilities free of charge,” he added. “I think they need to go back to the drawing board and get different ways of doing it because you pay city taxes that should go towards something for the city,” Howell shared.
The city council plans to discuss the issue further at the next council meeting on April 25. Meanwhile, Bourbeau said the increase might affect how she and her family use the facility.
“We both decided that if they double it as planned, we weren’t gonna join. It was just something that we just decided that was a little bit high for our budget,” she said.