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Herndon could limit park program fee waivers to town residents

Town of Herndon government offices (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Since 1991, people outside the Town of Herndon have been able to take advantage of its parks and recreation scholarship program, which awards fee waivers to participants enrolled in federally-funded, low-income programs.

A proposal before the Herndon Town Council aims to restrict eligibility for that program to town residents. If adopted by the council, the move would align with neighboring jurisdictions that offer fee waivers to residents only.

The program was temporarily put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, according to Cindy Roeder, the Herndon Parks and Recreation Department director.

If the proposal is approved, participants ages 17 and under would be eligible for a 50% fee reduction and participants 18 and older would receive a 25% reduction.

At a meeting on Tuesday (July 5), council members and staff expressed support for the changes, noting that area jurisdictions have similar models in place.

“That is a good basis for why we wanted ours this way as well,” Roeder said.

Councilmember Signe Friedrichs said jurisdictions throughout the state offer robust programming for residents, giving non-residents many options for recreational programming and services.

“If every single other jurisdiction only gives to discounts to their own residents and we are one of the most highly taxed districts in Northern Virginia, I don’t see why we would not follow suit in that area,” Friedrichs said.

Currently, the town plans to allocate $10,000 to the program for fiscal year 2023.

Councilmember Pradip Dhakal, who called the program a step in the “right direction,” suggested upping the cap to $20,000 to meet demand. Staff noted that changes to allocations are flexible.

The town’s parks department has managed the fee waiver program since 2010, including collecting scholarship funds and verifying eligibility. Before then, the nonprofit Cornerstones — then known as Reston Interfaith — handled the program but later withdrew because it didn’t align with the organization’s mission.

Town Manager Bill Ashton II said a discomfort with holding on to other people’s financial records — which is currently required for the town to manage the fund — also motivated the search for a new model.