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Participation in Salt Lake County recreation programs will finally begin to taper off this year, but it won't be due to diminishing interest in sports activities.

"We can't accommodate everyone who wants to use our facilities at the time they want to use them," said Glen Lu, director of county parks and recreation. "More people will be turned away."Participation in youth sports has increased by more than 2,000 per year since 1988 - from 13,943 to 21,468 - but the number is expected to grow by only 1,000 this year.

The number participating in adult sports increased at about the same rate - from 32,560 to 38,634 - and is also expected to grow by no more than 1,000 this year.

The prospect of limiting some of its most popular and profitable services has county government scrambling to develop new facilities and maximize use of existing ones. And officials are now debating whether to apply a bit of "supply and demand" pricing to fee structures.

Members of the county's budget review committee suggested last week that the department explore the feasibility of charging higher fees at premium facilities and high-demand times.

For example, committee members said softball players could be charged a little more to play at the Cottonwood Softball Complex than at less desirable fields. And why not charge golfers a higher rate at the most popular tee times?

"It is something we can look at," Lu answered. However, he cautioned that if fees become too expensive, the marketability of programs could suffer, and lower-income residents could be excluded.

Fees in the youth sports programs range from $25 to $40 per player. Depending on the type of activity, the fees cover the cost of team photos, awards, uniforms, professional team affiliation, salaries of game officials, equipment, supplies and gym rental.

Adult fees range from $50 per team for 3-on-3 basketball to $1,900 per team for men's ice hockey at the Cottonwood Heights Recreation Center. With 1,406 teams, softball is the most popular sport among adults. The basketball program has 732 teams; volleyball, 579; soccer, 28; and baseball, flag football and ice hockey, 12 each.

By policy, fees are set at a level sufficient to cover all of the direct costs, and almost of the sports are currently paying their own way, according to a report presented to county commissioners. County tax dollars pay the indirect costs, which consist mostly of administrative expenses.

Greens fees and concession revenues cover both the direct and indirect costs for the county's three golf courses. The report projects that the Equestrian Park will be the least cost-effective recreation function in 1992, generating only $89,658 in revenues while costing $249,282 to operate.

The department also operates swimming programs at nine pools, charging 50 cents for children, $1 for youths and seniors and $1.25 for adults. Last year, 248,034 swimming passes were sold. That figure is expected to to rise to 368,000 with the addition of pools in West Jordan and Magna.


(Additional information)

Popular sports

Numbers participating in youth recreation activities at Salt Lake County-run facilities:

Basketball 11,245

Tee ball 2,593

Tennis 2,052

Indoor soccer 1,792

Girls softball 1,225

Machine pitch 1,148

Flag football 741

Baseball 500

Volleyball 315

Sports clinics 1,674