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Permit fees to use city sports fields waived … for now

May 21st, 2012 · No Comments

CITY WAS SLATED TO COLLECT $1.5 MILLION IN FEES

By Rasheed Clarke

Many parents won’t have to worry about paying higher fees for their kids to participate in sports leagues this summer, but they would be wise to set aside a little more cash for 2013.

A city directive passed in January targeted baseball diamonds, soccer pitches, and other sports fields—that had previously been used for free—as potential sources of revenue for the city. The new fees were intended, in part, to cover the facilities’ maintenance costs: electricity for floodlights, water for irrigation, and grass that needs to be cut.

The parks, forestry and recreation department was slated to collect $1.5 million in fees from little league programs in 2012.

Those little leagues would likely have been forced to pass on the cost of field usage to the players and their parents, according to Councillor Sarah Doucette (Ward 13, Parkdale-High Park).

“Most of these leagues are run by volunteers, which means that they would have had to go back to each of their players to collect more money,” said Doucette.

At the city’s monthly council meeting on Apr. 10, Councillor Paula Fletcher (Ward 30, Toronto-Danforth) submitted a petition from the Toronto Sports Council signed by 70 organizations and nearly 2,000 people, asking that the city withhold collecting sports field fees to give organizations time to incorporate new fees into their registration charges.

City council voted unanimously, 41 to 0, to waive fees for sports fields for children and youth for this year. Citywide savings on salaries will be used to offset the $1.5 million loss.

Mayor Rob Ford requested city staff to liaise with representatives of sports leagues to find out how fees for field use would impact leagues and teams. A report on the matter is due back in July, at which point the city will begin planning how to work any new fees into the budget in 2013.

Councillor Doucette welcomed the decision, and hopes that the consultation process between leagues and the city will be done in a timely manner.

“We want to have the answer to the groups in September,” said Doucette, “so when they’re working on their budget and their registration fees, they know what they have to do.”

Toronto Baseball Association president David Black echoed that sentiment.

“We do a lot of our planning in the fall for the spring, so we kind of need to know in September,” said Black.

“It’s not a given where the fees will land for next year, but if any changes are made to fees, they have to be done in a timeframe that allows volunteer organizations to be able to plan,” he added.

The issue of field fees did bring to light a concern that leagues were overbooking field usage.

“Some teams, because the fields were free, were maybe permitting more time than they actually needed. So we need to give the teams a chance to work out how many hours they actually need,” said Doucette.

Black noted that booking field times can be challenging, since those reservations are made early in the year, and some games end up being postponed due to bad weather, forcing leagues to juggle their schedules.

Nevertheless, Black said, “there is an intention to see surplus capacity freed up, while at the same time providing a good working model for the volunteers.”

Municipalities surrounding Toronto charge fees for sporting fields, and for a time Etobicoke council had also imposed fees before amalgamation with Toronto.

While this season may be business as usual for many sports leagues around the city, parents of aspiring athletes should be forewarned that the 2013 season might come with higher registration fees.

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