At next month's meeting, city council will consider requiring vendors and peddlers to bid on the locations where they set up. That, too, is an attempt to collect more money.
"The city has to look for ways to raise revenue so we can become less dependent on state aid," said Camden spokesman Robert Corrales. It "is continuously scrutinizing existing ordinances and policies to ensure that the municipality is moving forward efficiently and effectively."
Property taxes are expected to contribute no more than $23.5 million toward the city's $167 million fiscal 2012 budget. Fifty-two percent of properties in the city are tax-exempt; in lieu of taxes, their owners pay less than $10 million in service fees. More than 65 percent of the city's budget is funded by state aid.
In the five-year plan it turned in to the state last year, Camden pledged to increase its tax levy by 3 or 4 percent annually through 2015, but even that would not substantially increase revenue. City officials could not say last week how much the new park fees were expected to generate.
Of the roughly 30 groups with season park permits, 20 to 25 are youth organizations that would be exempt from field fees, according to Arthur Thompson, director of the city's Department of Human Services. The city has made barely $1,000 in one year from public use of Camden's more than a dozen parks, he said.
The parks-and-recreation ordinance requires anyone who wishes to use park space, a field or a community center to pay a nonrefundable $10 application fee. To reserve an athletic field, Camden residents and groups will pay $50 for one-time use or $400 per season. Nonresidents will pay $150 for one use or $600 for a season.
Everyone, including Little Leagues, must pay for nighttime lighting — $50 for one night or $200 for a season. Want a scoreboard, portable bathroom or concession stand? Each of those will cost $50 an hour.
Depending on the size of the event and the sponsoring group's history, Camden also may demand payment for city maintenance workers and police or security guards, Thompson said.
The city has been losing money by providing such amenities and services for free, officials said.
Pete Perez, who helps run the Cramer Hill Little League, said teams now play for free at Stockton Park. All the league pays for is water at the concession stand. Additional charges would put a burden on the program, which serves about 400 children, he said.
"We have less parents able to pay for the kids. We have less sponsors from area businesses because of the economy," said Perez, who is a city firefighter. Though umpires are supposed to be volunteers, he has had so much trouble recruiting them that he has resorted to paying umpires just to keep the league going, he said.
If the city charges for lights, the concession stand and other items, Perez said, that will add a couple hundred dollars in expenses per week. "We can't do that," he said, adding that the group just tries to "keep kids safe and off the streets."
There is a way to continue getting free park usage for large events: Partner with the city, various Camden officials said.
Or use a county park. Camden County, which manages at least two large parks in the city — Von Neida and Pyne Poynt — this year abolished usage fees for county residents. Preregistration is still required, said county spokeswoman Joyce Gabriel.
"We just wanted to give residents a break," Gabriel said.
In Cherry Hill and Pennsauken, fees to use municipal athletic fields range from $50 to reserve space for one day to $300 for one-time use of a lighted football field. In Pennsauken, the revenue goes mostly toward lighting and field maintenance, said Elwood Martz, director of parks and recreation.
The proposed amendment to Camden's street vendor ordinance would allow the city to collect more revenue than the current $593 annual fee per vendor and to regulate who sells what and where. The goal is also to control the recent influx of illegal vendors in Camden at big events on the waterfront, city council president Frank Moran said.
"We can't have nighttime vendors making $7,000, $8,000 in one night and not paying anything to the city," Moran said at last week's council meeting.
Many cities have strict rules and fees for vendors, Code Enforcement director Iraida Afanador said at the meeting.
"It works in Trenton, it works in other states. So why not Camden?"
Contact Claudia Vargas at 267-815-1953 or email@example.com, or follow on Twitter @InqCVargas. Read her blog, "Camden Flow," on philly.com.