Tyler intramural sports leagues concerned fee increases will make play too expensive

Published on Wednesday, 23 August 2017 18:50 - Written by FAITH HARPER, fharper@Tylerpaper.com

Intramural sports organizations are concerned the city of Tyler’s proposed hike on ball field rental rates will make it too expensive for families to participate in soccer and softball.

Intramural teams pay a seasonal fee to the city to use the city’s facilities. The fee offsets the cost of prepping the fields, but does not cover the full expense of maintaining them.

The fee currently varies by sport, ranging from $35 to $840.

The proposed 2018 budget increases all the fees to $2,000 per ball field, per season.

Representatives from the Tyler Soccer Association, the USA Softball of Texas District 25, as well as the East and West divisions of the Rose Capital Little League, said the increased fees would affect how many people are able to participate in sports.

On top of renting the fields, the organizations pay referees and have administrative costs, which are mostly associated with their website and online payment portals. Some also include the price of uniforms, and all of that is passed on to the players or their parents.

Each organization is run by volunteers.

The groupof representativeswas concerned that they were not part of the conversation, and many had already set their budgets and fee structures prior to knowing about the proposal to up the fees.

They also expressed concerns over the conditions of the fields. After a year and a half of budget cuts, the city didn’t have the staff to maintain the fields at previous levels. The soccer association has concerns that the restroom facilities at Lindsey Park are too small and cause long lines.

The sports associations gave their concerns to the Tyler City Council during an open budget hearing on Wednesday, but no decision was made on how to move forward.

City Manager Ed Broussard said the council is open to looking at options to help fund the facilities.

“It’s an odd situation,” Broussard said. “It’s not an us versus them - We are in this together. We want to see little league. We want to see it continue and thrive. We want the soccer association to thrive as well. We want these organizations to succeed, do better and to bring them to fields they can be proud of.”

The city is looking to cut costs after two hard budget years. For years field rentals were done at a loss, but as sales tax declined the city took a look at where it could offset those losses.

The proposed budget includes an increased property tax rate, as well as increases to nearly every fee paid to the city by residents, including field leasing for intramural teams.

For next fiscal year, the city budgeted $50,000 to repair a water well at Lindsey Park. That well can be used to irrigate the park, instead of paying Southern Utilities for water.

Jeremy Bernard, with FC Dallas of East Texas, an affiliate of the professional sports team, proposed the city allow it to practice on the soccer fields during the week for a fee, a move that could give the city more revenue. FC does not currently use the city’s fields, and the Tyler Soccer Association only uses the soccer fields on Saturdays.

The concern is over field wear and tear. The Tyler Soccer Association does not encourage its players to practice at Lindsey, to keep the wear on the fields down for games.

Smaller children don’t put too much wear on the fields, but older teens do because they are often more aggressive with the ball.

FC proposes paying a total of $4,320 per year, per field. That idea has not been approved by the City Council, but is on the table.

“One of the issue we have is that you want to be able to have people play in the leagues, but the other thing is the condition of the fields and making sure those fields really are able to promote Tyler,” Broussard said. “That’s a big concern we have as well, but that requires money.”

The fee increases will impact each group to different degrees.

TYLER SOCCER ASSOCIATION

The Tyler Soccer Association pays lower fees, and is therefore facing the largest percentage increase.

Currently, the association pays $350 per field, per season. Moving to $2,000 per field equates to a 471 percent increase.

Randy Hill, with the association, said the organization rents 12 fields for eight weeks a year. Those fields are only used on Saturdays in an effort to keep the fields looking their best for games.

Hill said the association pays $8,400 a year now and would see that increase to $48,000 under the new proposal.

“That would certainly put the city of Tyler as the No. 1 vendor that we pay,” he said. “Currently, 40 percent of our revenue goes toward referees, and 40 percent goes to fees we have to pay our parent organization, North Texas Soccer. We are also a 501(c)(3), and 20 percent goes to administrative fees. We have two tournaments a year.”

The soccer organization has 250 teams, with 1,800 children participating.

The fee is currently $60 per child, and Hill said the organization currently is subsidizing 25 percent of the children.

“We would have 55 and 60 percent of the kids who play with us not be able to afford to play anymore, that’s 600 to 700 families,” Hill said. “With this, we are anticipating having to double our fees to $120 per child, with the chance of losing 50 to 60 percent of the kids. We never want to tell a child they can’t play, and we don’t want to be in that position.”

Hill said the organization would be happy with a 100 percent increase, but can’t afford the 471 percent increase.

He also asked city leadership to look at ways to cut costs of maintaining the fields on its end.

“I challenge you to be more effective with staff and technology to cut that cost,” he said.

LITTLE LEAGUE

Shane Hurley and Dennis Combs said the fee increases have the potential to bankrupt Tyler’s little league organizations.

Tyler has two little league teams - Rose Capital Little League East and Rose Capital Little League West. Each pay $840 per field, per season.

“We are open to negotiating also and looking into a fee structure that’s comfortable to all of us, but going to $2,000 per season would bankrupt us,” Hurley said.

Hurley said right now the fees account for 25 percent of the team’s budget, but with the increase it would account for 50 percent.

Currently, about 300 children participate at the park on Golden Road, and about 400 play at Faulkner Park. There’s also about 225 children who participate in fall ball.

Each player pays a fee of $110 per season, which includes a uniform.

“We would have to double what we charge now,” Combs said. “Our concession revenues are down compared to what they used to be. We used to get $500 a game, but we are down to $60 per game. We are basically breaking even on concessions now.”

Combs said the league has paid for improvements to the ball fields out of its own funds, and also sponsors low-income children that otherwise couldn’t participate.

“We want all kids who want to play baseball to play,” he said. “The fees proposed would seriously hamper Little League baseball. Little League hammers people into good citizens. We ask for very little from the city in terms of running our programs, and I’d sure hate to see this go away in the city of Tyler.”

INTRAMURAL SOFTBALL

The USA Softball of Texas District 25 runs the adult slow pitch leagues at Lindsey Park.

It’s a spin off of the Tyler Adult Softball League, which has been in existence since the1940s, and was administered in-house within the city until 2017, when it was taken over by volunteers, said Van Jordan, the group’s slow pitch deputy commissioner.

The group currently pays $840 per field, per season, Jordan said. The group leases five fields for three seasons, paying a total of $12,600 annually.

With the increases, the group would pay $30,000 annually, an increase of $17,400, according to a handout Jordan distributed to councilmembers. He said that would put the organization $21,740 in the hole for the year.

The organization proposed a compromise to the Council. Jordan said the organization could possibly absorb an increase from its current rate to $1,000 per field.

“We don’t want to do that,” Jordan said. “I’m putting a pencil to what we can do to generate some more, and we will go up on fees substantially - $840 is the break-even point.”

The group has about 1,200 participants over the three seasons, and Jordan estimates about two-thirds of them reside in the city.

Their games are played Monday through Thursday, from 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., for 15 field preps a week.

“This is a wellness program for adults- remember that,” Jordan said. “It’s one of the few wellness programs in existence for the adults of the city of Tyler.”

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