October 13, 2010; Source: St. Petersburg Times | What does it take to make public officials realize that their efforts to eke every last nickel and dime out of nonprofits in the form of increased fees is counterproductive and wrong? It takes nonprofits standing up and saying, enough!

Hernando County, Fla. has been hiking fees for county park users for some time, including parking fees at boat ramps, which residents understood. But county commissioners’ October 1 hike in fees for use of athletic fields by nonprofit youth leagues got a stronger reaction. The youth groups protested, loudly, in numbers, and explained to the commissioners the adverse consequences of making families and nonprofits pay higher and higher costs for kids’ use of public recreation facilities.

The commissioners reacted with what seems to have been a unanimous Gomer Pyle-type “Gaaw-aawl-ly,”—it never struck them that the constantly rising fees might be too costly for lower income families and for hard-pressed nonprofit youth athletic leagues. One commissioner tried to be compassionate, but clearly didn’t get it. He created, he said, a nonprofit—named Play Ball Hernando—to raise money that would help families pay the fees, and he donated the first $500.

He missed the point completely. Trying to dump the cost of public facilities onto lower income families and the nonprofits that serve them through user-fee charges is just completely wrong-headed. The solution is to stop this silly practice, not to create a nonprofit that might—just might—raise money to help people pay the fee that the County is exacting from the budgets of other nonprofits.—Rick Cohen