Our View: Plea for fee relief
Posted: December 8, 2012
Though it’s never pretended to hide its light beneath the proverbial bushel basket, the Winchester youth baseball program — Winchester Baseball, as it known, or “WB,” as the bumper magnets say — has been a definite community asset in terms of programs offered, economic impact generated, and capital support rendered.
But, as City Hall ponders a fee increase for groups using Winchester’s park facilities, the big question now is this: Given the baseball organization’s longstanding commitment to capital improvements at Jim Barnett Park, should it be exempt from the formula — a new set-in-stone standard based on hourly costs and annual use by each respective nonprofit group (with discounts written in to encourage heightened participation by city residents) — devised by the city to 1) recover the operational costs of recreational programs and 2) help fund a Parks & Rec capital kitty?
In other words, has the relationship between Winchester Baseball and the city been sufficiently special to warrant relief from the strictures of this new standard? Winchester Baseball believes that answer is “Yes,” and it emphatically said so in a power-point presentation rolled out at last month’s Parks & Rec board meeting.
In its defense, Winchester Baseball noted that, since 1994, it has poured more than $500,000 of member-raised funds into capital improvements at the park. Among the projects undertaken and completed: a concession stand and restrooms ($100,000), a new T-Ball field ($100,000) press boxes at Rotary and Yost fields, and a press box and scoreboard at Henkel Harris Field ($76,000), and batting cages throughout the baseball complex ($37,500).
What’s more, the organization reminded city officials that its volunteers have contributed “thousands of (in-kind) hours” toward the maintenance of the fields. Nor to be overlooked are the economic positives generated by tournaments attracting out-of-town teams held annually at Jim Barnett Park.
Stated simply, while Winchester Baseball has duly noted the city’s concerns and aims — i.e., it understands that, at a cost of $96 per capita for recreational activities, Winchester residents are heavily subsidizing park use by non-residents — the organization seeks similar consideration from the city. Under this new formula, Winchester Baseball would see its fees rise from the $6,000 annually it now pays to more than $30,000 by 2015 (and that’s with the residential discount included).
What does the group have in mind? Certainly not a diminution of support, but rather something akin to the status quo, in which its fund-raising activities target specific capital-improvement goals. In the mind of WB officials, it’s easier to raise funds with tangible goals in mind rather than doing so simply to meet the annual demands of a city-imposed fee increase. It’s a point not easily dismissed, especially when you consider that, on average since 1994, the organization has contributed about $30,000 annually in capital improvements at the city park.
From the city’s perspective, though, it sees an organization hardly hurting for cash — through 2011, WB’s fund balance was a substantive $232,000 (though league officials do say they prefer to keep two years’ worth of operating expenses safely banked) — that not only wants relief from a fee increase which, over time, will affect all user groups, but also has stated it may raise its own player-participation fee by as much as $43 a child to offset the city’s hike.
What we have is an impasse, though one that, through Solomonic wisdom, can be bridged. Winchester justifiably wants to recover operational costs; Winchester Baseball remains willing to pay its fair share. The question is: How?
Much as in baseball itself, the two sides must first agree on the ground rules.