My county has a website form residents can use to submit questions, comments and concerns, which I've used three times in the past five years. The county runs fitness centers of which I'm a member. This morning I submitted the below concern (slightly polished for grammar :) about the reduced cost passes for non-county residents 55 and over:
Hello, I'm [in my mid-40's] and a long-time taxpaying Arlington County resident as well as an Arlington County gym member. When I buy my annual County fitness center pass, I pay the $195 rate as a county resident, much less than the $558 charged to non-residents because residents pay Arlington County taxes and as much of Parks & Rec is supported by taxpayer dollars we should be discounted. No problems there, neighboring jurisdictions do the same thing.
The county, via its 55+ Gold Pass program, has recently dropped the qualification age from 62 to 55, any resident 55 or over needs to just pay $60. OK. But non-residents 55+ who aren't paying Arlington taxes have to pay just $90, a mere $30 more and less than half the $195 that I need to pay. That benefit seems too disproportionate to be giving to non-taxpaying non-county residents--should I really have to be paying $195 while a relatively youthful 55-year old Fairfax County resident just has to pay $90?
55 is hardly retirement age, many of those people are at the top of their financial situation at that time, and giving such a benefit to 55+ county residents must come at a significant price both to county taxpayers who have to subsidize the shortfall in fees and paying county members whose memberships would be cheaper if they didn't have to cover this subsidy. So be it, though, we take care of our senior residents. But asking taxpayers and gym members to pay more to be subsidizing *non-county* residents as young as 55 seems an unfair burden to ask. I'd like the county to raise the minimum age for non-county residents back to 62, and/or alternatively retain the same $195/$558 resident/non-resident ratio for the senior passes ($60 for residents, $172 for non-residents.) Gyms cost money to run, and non-residents should be expected to pay more to cover the difference that they're not paying in county taxes.
I've checked the Fairfax County Parks and Recreation website and they give no senior discount to people outside of their jurisdiction, they just take care of their own and then only when they reach 65. Alexandria does cover at age 55, but only a 20% discount and again only for city residents. Likewise, Arlington County reduced fee memberships correctly just cover Arlington residents, taxpayers don't have to support non-residents for that.
This rate is also bad for the County for another reason -- each of the fitness centers have a limited number of aerobic machines, the more you fill up those machines due to heavy subsidies of non-county residents, the $195 payers get upset because the machines are never available and instead go to private gyms that aren't that much more expensive for them. The percentage of those using the gym being full payers is going to drop as a result, with the lost gym revenue requiring more county subsidies in order to be supporting people who live outside the county's jurisdiction.
Update 12/31/2015, I got a response from the County today:
Dear Mr. Mazza,
I am writing to you on behalf of Arlington County Board Chair Mary Hynes. Thank you for sharing your concerns about the 55+ Gold Pass fee for non-residents and the change in age eligibility for senior adult rates. The issues you mentioned are actually part of a number of adjustments made to senior adult programs during the last budget cycle.
Each year, the Arlington County Board approves the schedule of fees and charges for the Department of Parks and Recreation as part of the annual budget process. In Fiscal Year 2016, fees for senior adult programs were realigned for consistency across the County programs. Prior to this, all persons 55+ were eligible for programs offered through the Office of Senior Adults. However, various other programs applied an age discount to 62+. As a policy change, the age of eligibility for all senior programs and discounts offered through the Department of Parks and Recreation is now 55+.
It is Arlington County policy to allow non-residents to use County facilities and programs and to require non-residents to pay a surcharge on top of the base participation fee. This surcharge varies based on the type of program. In the case of the 55+ Pass, non-residents are charged 50% more than residents. Non-residents, however, never receive a fee reduction (which is only available to residents with financial need).
The County is committed to offering programs for seniors to remain healthy and to age in place. As part of this mission, we are always looking at ways to further this focus. As such, the base fee for this 55+ Gold Pass is set at only $60 for an individual pass and the surcharge added to that for non-residents is the additional 50%.
Formerly, we offered a 55+ pass with limited fitness pass options, along with a separate senior fitness-only membership. Research indicated that very few seniors purchased the senior fitness-only membership. The vast majority of seniors purchased the 55+ Pass that included a variety of senior program options, including limited access to some fitness centers. Research also indicated that many of the seniors with the 55+ Pass were interested in expanded fitness access and were willing to pay for it. As our goal is to develop programs that support the interests of our community, it was decided that we would have two senior passes and eliminate the senior fitness-only membership. We kept the same fee for the 55+ Pass ($20) and created the 55+ Gold Pass ($60), which provides the benefits of the 55+ Pass plus access to our fitness centers whenever they are open.
As with all of our programs, we will continue to review what Arlington County is providing and adjust as needed. As of December 29, an additional 2,136 Arlington County residents have purchased a pass. Only 146 (6% of the total) non-residents have signed up for the program; the percent of non-residents has not really changed since we adjusted the program. Since the new pass went into effect, we have been monitoring fitness room usage and have seen no spikes in attendance leading to overcrowding. We will continue to monitor.
Our annual budget review is coming up, and again, as always, fees will be reviewed and adjustments made as appropriate. I hope this background is helpful and allows you to see our strategy to encourage more Arlington seniors to be active and engaged.
Please let us know if you have any further questions.Michael R. Peter, MPA