BUSINESS
04/05/2012 04:30 pm ET

North Las Vegas City Council Debates Charging Fee To Sit In A Park

Imagine having to pay to sit on the grass.

That could be happening soon in North Las Vegas, where the city council is considering charging residents an entrance fee to its new 150-acre Craig Ranch Regional Park in order to afford the cost of maintenance, the Las Vegas Sun reports. Like many local officials across the country, the North Las Vegas council members are looking for ways to cut costs amid budget crises. The city faces a $15.5 million shortfall in the coming fiscal year and with the park's upkeep costing $2.3 million to operate annually, council members are looking for ways to offset the cost.

But the idea of "charging people to go use the grass and have a picnic," isn't the preferred choice of Mayor Shari Buck who told local KTNV she's willing to explore a number of different plans. One option would be to charge visitors $2 to use the skate park and $5 per hour for vehicle parking. That way taxpayers who don't use the park won't face the burden of paying for its upkeep.

Financing parks across the country remains difficult, as sparse funding is often allocated to more immediate causes such as education. Within the last year, both California and New Jersey have proposed handing over state parks to private ownership.

In addition, National Parks across the country already usually require an entrance fee and the vast majority of state parks also charge visitors. One exception is in Illinois, but with $750 million in backlogged maintenance work needed, that may soon change, The State Journal-Register reports. Currently, legislation is pending that could charge visitors up to $10 a day.

The debate over how best to fund public services is all too familiar these days, as cities struggle to make ends meet amid huge budget gaps. Many municipalities across the country are on the verge of bankruptcy. As a result, some towns have come up with new ways to either cut costs or raise revenue. Highland Park. Michigan tore out its street lights to save on its energy bill, for example, while some Texas schools are now selling ad space on buses and buildings. Baltimore is even considering selling off historic landmarks.

In addition, the cities of Stockton, California, Detroit, Michigan and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, among others, all remain in particularly precarious positions.

Things could be looking up, however. Last year, state and local revenues hit a record high of $1.35 trillion, indicating local budgets may finally be recovering from reduced property tax revenues caused by the housing market bust.

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