NORWICH — The City of Norwich Youth Bureau is looking into charging fees for individuals living outside of the municipalities they are in contract with.
The city is in contract with the Towns of Norwich, North Norwich, Pharsalia, and Preston, which reimburses them based on participation levels. In turn, residents of those municipalities can participate in Youth Bureau programming for free.
City of Norwich Youth Bureau Director Anthony Testani said between 2012 and 2021, participation levels shifted from 64 percent of participants coming from within the City of Norwich to just 51 percent, but the costs to the Youth Bureau remained fairly steady.
In 2021, he changed their billing structure to charge contracted areas more equitably. However, this adjustment led to slight increases for contracted towns.
In October of 2023, he said the Youth Bureau learned the Town of Plymouth would not be renewing their contract. However, they had high participation levels last year with 57 residents enrolling in Youth Bureau programs.
Although the Youth Bureau has said in the past that they will charge non-residents to participate in programs, Testani said in his time as director they have never actually enforced any fees.
"I have never charged for a non-resident to participate in our programs, but those numbers have typically been low, like ten to 15 kids. But now with the town of Plymouth, they had 57 kids in our program last year. That’s just a cost I don’t think the city can absorb," he said.
"And it sets a bad precedent. You know, if the Town of Plymouth doesn’t have to pay, now the Town of North Norwich could say, 'oh, the Town of Plymouth is not paying, why should I? Now I’m not going to renew.' And then slowly everybody does the same thing and now the City of Norwich is paying for all these other towns and participants."
This sparked Testani and the Youth Bureau Board to begin exploring options for fees in October, and Testani presented their proposed fees to the City of Norwich Common Council at Tuesday's joint committee meeting.
The proposed fees would be $50 for one child, $75 for two children, and $100 for three or more children signed up for Youth Bureau programs who live in municipalities not in contract with the city. Testani said the fee would allow children to enroll in any Youth Bureau program for the year. They will also be offering a 50 percent discount to families who demonstrate a financial need.
"If you have one child you want to sign up for basketball, tennis, pickleball, it’s $50. If you have two children you want to sign up each one for basketball, pickleball, tennis, it’s $75," Testani explained.
Testani said it wasn't an easy decision to make for himself or board members, but they did their best to keep prices affordable. Last year it cost the city around $88 per participant in Youth Bureau programs, according to Testani, but he said they knew they couldn't charge that much.
"We spend $88 per participant in the program, and we’re only going to recoup $50 to $100 per family. And we realized we couldn’t charge that full amount. It just wouldn’t be feasible for a lot of families to pay $88 to participate in our programs," he said. "So this is still a cost to the city."
Although residents in non-contract municipalities would have to pay, the fees are much lower than similar programs in other areas.
"We looked at what other towns are doing; this actually is a much better deal than some of the programs we looked at," he said. "Some are charging $30 for basketball, $30 for baseball, you know, $30 for each program per kid. So we’re still giving the individual a heck of a value."
He said some municipalities charged even more, such as the Town of Cicero, which charges $80 for residents and $90 for non-residents to participate in their basketball program.
Fees would only be applied to Youth Bureau programs, such as youth sports. Testani said usage of the ice rink and pool, and attendance on Youth Bureau trips would remain free.
The City of Norwich Council voted to move the topic to the common council meeting scheduled for Tuesday, February 20, where they will vote to approve or deny the proposed fees. If approved, the Youth Bureau will begin charging fees with their summer registration.
Questions or concerns can be directed to the Youth Bureau at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-334-1206.
More information on the City of Norwich Youth Bureau can be found at NorwichNewYork.net/government/youth.php or on the City of Norwich Youth Bureau Facebook page.