Youth sports leagues cry foul over rate hikes

New permit fees on youth sports passed in city budget

Diamonds are traditionally given as gifts for 60th anniversaries, but for the East York Baseball Association’s birthday, they’re going to have to pay for their own.

The group recently found out their youth leagues would be hit with user fees on facilities they use, including at Greenwood and Stan Wadlow parks.

With an added cost of $53,000, league president Andrew Pace says a large chunk will come out of the volunteers’ efforts.

“We already have 150 volunteers working long hours to make this association to work so well and now they’re going to be asked to do more because the city couldn’t get themselves organized enough to give us the head’s up in time,” he said.

Playing fields in municipal parks have A, B or C classifications based on amenities and location. With the new user fees organizations using A fields will be charged $10.52 per hour, B will cost $7.80, and C will come in at $5.31.

The fields at Greenwood and Stan Wadlow parks are classified as A fields as they have lit diamonds.

The new fees for youth leagues were packaged in the new user fee policy that council passed in January as part of the 2012 budget.

Though some leagues are furious with the added cost, others, like Balmy Beach Rugby Club, who play out of Tubs and Gee Gage Field, might not have as big of a problem with the added cost, just as long as their getting quality work in return.

“The fields just aren’t in very good shape, so hopefully some of these funds will go into maintaining the fields,” said junior rugby director Jim Drohan. “I don’t mind paying for something if there’s some quality there.”

Still poor timing has added some undue stress, especially with registration starting April 1.

“The only beef I have about this is it was quite delayed and we’re just getting this now,” Drohan said. “We’ve got a little bit behind.

“We’re hoping it’s not too much of a deterrent for our players,” he added. “Some of these costs will have to be passed on through registration because that’s really the only source of revenue.”

The city is responsible for costs associated with the upkeep of the facilities, including tending to baseball diamonds, grass cutting, utilities associated with lights and irrigation.

“We’ve always been burdened with that cost, but up until this spring, children and youth sports organizations didn’t have to pay a permit fee to use those facilities,” says Mark Lawson, a manager in the parks, forestry and recreation department.

Having already collected two-thirds of the league’s maximum registration numbers, Pace said he finds the city’s actions flippant.

“It’s a little irritating to us that we’ve been putting the $20,000 into the fields a year and bringing in clay and doing maintenance on the field,” he said. “We have to hire somebody to do the work that the city is supposed to do in the first place.

“We want to maintain our fields to maintain a high-quality program and now the city is going to charge us to do that?” he added, with a laugh. “We would like the city to reduce our fees by the amount of money that we put into the fields.”

Don Valley West councillor John Parker said while he voted in favour of the new user fee policy, its implementation for sports leagues was too hasty, given the time of year. He acknowledged that many athletic groups have already sent out membership forms, collected fees and set their budget for the year. He’s asked parks staff to look into their implementation timelines and provide more flexibility.

“I think it’s unrealistic to hit them now with a cost that they didn’t see coming,” he said. “But once we’re through that generation of users then I think it’s fair to bring the fees up to the full level and charge them from there on in.”

Parker said he supports the fee policy because it levels the playing field on use of public amenities. Adult leagues currently pay for use of the same fields.

“It’s only fair that they pick up part of the cost of the service or benefit that they’re getting as distinct from the services available freely to everybody.”

Ward 5 councillor Peter Milczyn agrees with Parker that the timing is bad, and says it may require a phasing-in period over 2012 and 2013 in order to ease the burden of a potentially large hike in fees charged by league associations.

Milczyn said the cost might not be as exorbitant as some would suggest, as many leagues overbook field time.

“If they just booked the time they actually need, for some of the groups it’s a significantly smaller amount than what they’re concerned it would be,” Milczyn said.

He added the fee policy also needs some clarification on matters like whether the league must still incur costs on days when the field is rendered unusable, such as on rainy days.

Milczyn notes prior to amalgamation, the city of Etobicoke charged leagues for use of playing fields in public parks. After amalgamation, fees were subsequently phased out.

It’s more than a set back for East York baseball.

“When we sent out our permits in September it showed there was going to be no fees as per usual so this was out of the blue to us,” Pace said. “At the time we found out all of a sudden we’d have fees.

“What are we going to do? Go back to these people and say, ‘Sorry you have to ante-up another $50 to $100,’ ” he added. “We’re going to work on it and see if we can get it phased in because it’s not really fair.”

About this article:

By: Karolyn Coorsh and Brian Baker
Posted: Mar 8 2012 3:12 pm
Filed in: Sports
Edition: Toronto