WILLMAR -- A new utility fee that will be implemented next year at Kandiyohi County parks will help reduce financial losses the county incurs by operating the park system.
The fee -- which is 50 to 60 cents a day depending on the park -- will apply only to people camping for 30 or more consecutive days. Those long-term campers had never before been charged a separate fee for utilities, including electricity to operate RVs.
Because the county has been losing an average of $21,000 a year on county parks over the last 10 years, the county commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday at their park board meeting to add a separate fee for utilities for 30-day and seasonal campers.
Making the utility fees a separate line on the camping bill will show the public exactly what the county is charging for, said County Administrator Larry Kleindl.
At County Parks 1 and 2, a charge of 50 cents a day will be added to the bill. At Parks 3 and 5, where sewer service is also available, a fee of 60 cents per day fee will be charged.
Charging for utilities is expected to generate about $14,000 a year.
That will help reduce the average annual $21,000 loss to the county to about $7,000 a year, Kleindl. Said
"This still will not cover our costs," he said.
Rates for daily campers have always included a separate utility fee. That lump sum rate, which ranges from $5.70 to $9.25 depending on the park, is charged whether a person is there one day or one week.
When the new fees are implemented for the long-term campers, it will cost a total of $15 to $18 for those camping 30 days. The seasonal rate, which is about 90 days, is $52 to $62.
To avoid "sticker shock," Kleindl said the county will likely make gradual increases to park fees in future years to reduce financial losses to the county, and still offer a good camping at a price that is attractive to campers.
Kleindl said it's expensive to make capital improvements to parks. A new bathroom that doubles as a storm shelter costs about $250,000.
"It takes a lot of camping to make that up," Kleindl said.
The county has cut costs at parks.
Centralized purchasing of cleaning supplies has cut that cost in half. The county has kept maintenance and repair costs low by using Sentence to Service crews. But that available labor force has decreased because there are fewer county prisoners and fewer people sentenced to do community service, which could make it difficult to get future projects completed at parks, according to the commissioners.
The board also agreed Tuesday to allow RVs to be stored during the off-season at parks that have available space for a fee of $250. The county will accept the liability for storing the campers there.
The commissioners commended the park managers for making it through a challenging year that included rain, mud and high water -- especially on Big Kandi Lake -- which made it a challenge to keep campers happy.
"You guys put up with a huge amount of challenges," said Commissioner Harlan Madsen.