Kids sports leagues spared fees
Council gives reprieve for 2012, will examine better implementation for 2013
For Quinn Pace, April 10 was a good day to play a celebratory game of baseball.
The 12-year-old Cosburn Middle School student may have appreciated the exercise after a morning spent watching councillors debating and finally voting to waive a sports field user fee for youth and kids leagues.
“I really wanted to see who voted what way and how people were reacting to it,” he said.
What he witnessed was a show of unity, with councillors and Mayor Rob Ford agreeing to grant a reprieve to the leagues. They also vowed to review the rate and examine the impact of implementing such fees in 2013.
“I think it’s a victory for the kids of Toronto who were facing the potential of fees they couldn’t afford and leagues who simply were on the brink of viability if they had those fees in place in 2012,” said Beaches-East York councillor Janet Davis.
The change of heart on the user fee left a $1.5 million shortfall in revenue in the 2012 parks budget, which will be offset by salary savings resulting from recent city staff labour negotiations.
Baseball, soccer and lacrosse leagues cried foul earlier this year when they found out they’d be charged for use of Toronto playing fields, a fee usually reserved for adult leagues only. The fee was part of a comprehensive user fee policy packaged in the 2012 city budget. Many said the fee hit was implemented too hastily.
Andrew Pace, president of the East York Baseball Association said they had set their annual budgets months earlier and collected two-thirds of the league’s maximum registration numbers when word of the fee came down. The user fee would have cost the league an additional $53,000. Several other sports groups, many volunteer-run, were left in similar positions.
“We really had no fair mechanism to get the fees and it would leave us in a bind, so we’re glad that issue is dealt with,” he said after the vote.
The fee was also an affront to many leagues that already pay for some maintenance of the fields they use, thus, any new fee would essentially be a “child and youth tax on physical activity,” Pace said.
“We hope that if we’re talking about 2013 fees, that they really are fees that are going to have new services attached to them that we’re going to upgrade our fields from where they are and take the burden off associations paying,” he said.
Patrick McConnell, president of the 300-member Bloordale Baseball League, and a board member of the Etobicoke Baseball Association, said he has no objection to paying a fee in the future, but he too expects returns.
His leagues already do some of the work the city doesn’t have the resources to do, he says, including cutting infield grass, lining diamonds, and pitcher mound maintenance.
“We’ve always taken on that because we want a certain level of playing field quality,” he said. “The city doesn’t have the staff, so we do it, but at the same time, if they start charging us for all the stuff that we’re already doing they better come in and up the ante a little bit on some of the service that they’re providing.”
The city is responsible for costs associated with the upkeep of the facilities, including tending to baseball diamonds, grass cutting, garbage pick-up and utilities associated with lights and irrigation.
To that end, councillors also asked for staff to report back on a strategy to replace, repair and build sports fields, and look at the feasibility of establishing a sports fields renewal reserve fund.
“Clearly, the user fees in this budget were simply raising money, but not a dime was going to go into making the field any better and we heard very clearly from the leagues if (they’re) going to pay (they) want to make sure those fields are in good shape,” Davis said.
Councillor David Shiner said councillors and staff will work to make sure the fees are fair and reasonable.
“Most of the teams don’t mind paying a reasonable fee for their fields but they want to be sure that the fees are affordable, that no kid will not be able to play.”
After consultation with sports teams and other affected groups, staff must report back to city council by July on 2013 fees for sports fields.
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