Baseball league caught off guard by field fees

‘CAN WE STILL PLAY BALL THERE?’ kids and parents may be asking after the city added permit fees for facilities used by local teams, which already fundraise for uniforms and park upkeep.

‘It’s taking away from the kids’, says executive member

Karolyn Coorsh and Brian Baker

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

The baseball organization with three divisions: tee ball, little league and OBA found out Feb. 9 they would be hit with user fees on all the facilities they use including Ernie Keith Field, Lithuania Park and Western Tech.

Little league vice-president Lou Rocha says the move by city staff came out of left field.

“I talked to a gentleman from the (city) and he said he kind of heard some rumours but they didn’t know it was going to go through,” he said.

Playing fields in municipal parks have A, B or C classifications based on amenities and location. Fees go up incrementally depending on that classification. With the new user fees, organizations using A fields will be charged $10.52 per hour, B fields will run $7.80, and C fields will cost $5.31.

Kids and youth groups have always paid permit fees at Toronto’s premier fields, such as the Cherry Beach soccer facility, as have adults and seniors.

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

What the new expenses mean for High Park baseball is a cost of $20,000, Rocha said, adding an extra $35 onto registration fees for parents who haven’t seen rates go up in five years.

The city is responsible for costs associated with the upkeep of the facilities, including tending to baseball diamonds, cutting grass, and utilities like electric and hydro source bills 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.

It seems most of the onus is on associations to maintain their fields, Rocha said.

“All the city does is they cut the outfield once a week, and of course the hydro for the lights,” he said. “Any upgrades to the field, it’s coming out of the parents (and) fundraising.”

Fundraising is an annual event for amateur sports leagues, and most of the money goes to buying new uniforms and park maintenance. The association spends about $7,800 on diamond upkeep. High Park also added two new little league teams for this season, and money that was in the coffers earmarked for new pinstripes and socks will now go to help offset the costs.

“It’s taking away from the kids because now the money we give to (the city) is less money we have to spend on equipment,” Rocha said. “We’re still going to buy the stuff but we have to do that slowly.”

Ward 5 councillor Peter Milczyn said fee implementation might require some tweaking.

“I think there is going to be an effort over the next few weeks to look into this in a lot of detail and if some modifications need to be made, I think there would be a significant group of councillors that would support doing that at council, including myself.”

Modifications, he suggested, would include phasing in the new fee over 2012 and 2013.

The timing is bad, Milczyn says, as many leagues have begun the payment process.

“Parents have been signing their kids up in one fee and I understand these
groups can’t necessarily go back and say now give us more.”

But Milczyn also suggested the cost may not be as exorbitant as some would suggest, as many leagues overbook field time.

“So on that basis, the fees are astronomical, but 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 to be 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.

Parkdale-High Park councillor Sarah Doucette agrees the fee should be phased in, as groups were not given an appropriate heads up.

She said during debate at city hall over the user fees, staff were asked to notify groups to be affected by a fee hike.

“My understanding is a lot of these groups have already done their registration, they’ve already set their fees and now they’re being told?”

Doucette said hikes could mean an extra cost of $13,000 to $15,000 for local, volunteer-run sports groups in her ward.

“That’s a lot of money to suddenly go and find,” she says.

Still many parents are balking at the idea of more expenses.

“Their reaction is, of course, ‘They’re digging into our pockets again’,” Rocha said. “People have also said, they want to keep kids off the street, it gets them active but they keep adding all these extra things for families to have to pay more.”

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