GovernmentThe Examiner

Fees for Use of Mt. Pleasant Fields Causes Uproar in Community

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Fees for field maintenance and the establishment of a fund for a new playing surface appears certain for sports organizations that use Mount Pleasant’s outdoor recreational facilities, which sparked a recent hubbub on social media.

On a recommendation from the Recreation Advisory Committee, the town’s Recreation & Parks Department has proposed to charge organizations, including the Kensico and Sherman Park Little Leagues and the Mount Pleasant American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO), $14 for each participant a year.

The initially proposed fee had been $14 per registrant for each season, but since AYSO has both a fall and a spring season that would have resulted in it paying $28 for each player, which caused an online firestorm from some parents and community members. AYSO currently has close to 1,000 participants, according to its commissioner, Gary Rushneck.

Doug Scott, the town’s superintendent of recreation, said last week that under the tentative plan half of the $14 charge would be applied to field maintenance costs to help offset the expense to the town. The other $7 would be put into a separate fund that will pay for a new artificial turf playing surface sometime in the future.

“They can charge however they want,” Scott explained of how the sports organizations handle the extra expense. “It’s not directly to the people who live in town. It’s a way to charge that’s cheaper per hour, so we’re saying this is what it costs per registration. They don’t have to charge that.”

He said many of the organizations have reserve funds where they don’t necessarily have to pass along the fee to the families in town who have a child participating.

Scott and Parks Superintendent Jon Petruzzelli explained that since AYSO reported to them that there are about 850 children participating in their program in the fall and currently about 60 children in the spring it takes in roughly $200,000 a year. Therefore, AYSO’s fee to the town would be less than $12,000.

Sherman Park Little League typically has between 375 and 400 players, Scott said. With 375 players, the town would collect $5,250 a year from the program, he said.

During the past few years, the town has been receiving about $3,000 a year per organization. The town has about 20 baseball, softball and soccer fields in town, Scott estimated.

Petruzzellli said the fee will help the town maintain its fields as well as build a fund to hopefully pay for a new field.

“Once the fund builds up, between trying to find grants and getting money, I can’t come in here with the operating budget and ask for half a million dollars,” he said.

Tensions frayed last week when a torrent of angry social media posts criticized the town for what some characterized as a money grab with the originally proposed $28 fee. Rushneck said there was anger in the community from some AYSO families because the primary field used for the soccer program, Lakeside, is more a meadow than an athletic field. A second field frequently floods after rain.

As of last Friday, Rushneck said it appeared AYSO and Recreation & Parks are close to reaching an agreement, including having the town pay for the field lights for them.

The organization would be happy to pay the fee if there weren’t problems with the fields, he said.

“We don’t have fields in this town,” Rushneck said. “My big thing is the Town Board has done nothing for fields the last 15 years and now all of a sudden, they come to the youth organizations (saying) ‘Well, we need money, you guys have to give it to us.’ I’m very much against that.”

Town Board members said the families who use the fields should shoulder some of the responsibility for the maintenance of the facilities.

“It’s not fair to the taxpayers who do not use recreation programs to foot the bill for these kinds of things, and I think you have the ability to try and balance that, you’re trying to make it fair for the residents of the town,” said Supervisor Carl Fulgenzi.

Councilwoman Laurie Rogers Smalley compared the situation to fees that are charged to residents who sign up for a summer pool membership.

“We’re not obligated to say we’re giving you fields,” Smalley said. “It’s not the town’s responsibility to do that. We’re trying to do that. You provide programs for our community, and it’s not like we have to do this for you.”

Scott said for-profit organizations would be charged on a different scale, a percentage of revenue that they generate. Camps, adult softball leagues as well soccer and travel leagues are among the entities that will also be subject to an added fee.

Despite the pending extra charge, Rushneck said AYSO has no intention of passing the fee along to families. The organization has reserve funds for unexpected expenses, such as the state mandated Automated External Defibrillators (AED) that now must be at every field. They intend to use some of the reserve money to cover the fee.

Scott said they will meet once again with the organizations in the upcoming week or two, and if they get their support, then Recreation and Parks will press forward for Town Board adoption.

“Once the lawyer looks at it again, if we have it all out, we’ll put it to the Town Board to approve at an official meeting,” he said.

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