City, youth sports work out field-use fee

City, youth sports work out field-use feeBy BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

Local youth sports organizers have come to an tentative agreement with the city regarding usage fees for the Kerr McGee Sports Complex. Though the city’s 2019-2020 budget isn’t expected to be formally approved until Wednesday’s Ridgecrest City Council meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Lindsey Stephens reported that teams have agreed to a $100 per week charge to use the fields.

During a budget workshop last month, the city proposed a $300 per week usage fee for the city fields, in addition to utility fees that local youth sports leagues were already paying. Youth sports representatives opposed the fees, but City Manager Ron Strand said that the city “can’t continue to give away stuff for free.”

“Minimum wage costs keep going up – the cost of maintaining those fields keep going up,” said Strand. He addressed complaints that the fields have been in disrepair and attributed it to the fact that the city has never charged fees for the fields’ use.

Christopher Gray of IWV Youth Baseball said the sports leagues, with the help of the community and business sponsors, have put tens of thousands of dollars into the fields over the years.

“The city cuts the grass and replaces the light bulbs and the sprinkler heads,” said Gray in a committee meeting earlier this month. “Other than that, we maintain everything. We pick weeds, we maintain the infields – we spend our own money.”

Gray’s concerns were that the city would collect the fee without any assurance that the city would take over maintenance. He added that what he estimates to be an additional $7,000-10,000 in annual usage fees for baseball alone would be passed on to the participating families.

Gray says the league pays some $13,500 per year in utilities for keeping the lights on and the fields watered. The city anticipated to collect about $17,000 more as a result of the usage fee. He questioned the Parks & Recreation Department’s inability to find the money in the budget while raising the administrative costs by $73,000.

“I think it’s a matter of priorities,” said Stan Rajtora during a recent Council meeting. “Do we want the kids on the sports fields, or do we want them doing drugs, drinking alcohol, joining street gangs, etc. I think it’s a no-brainer. We’re talking $17,000 out of a budget of $14 million. I would like to suggest you go out and find the money in the budget.”

“We do our best to work with these kids to help them with anything they are having problems with – grade-wise or study-wise – I have done study halls,” said Mike Stafford with IWV Youth Football. “All extra stuff to keep these kids on the field, which keeps them off the streets.”

Gray said that local sports are “extremely important” to our youth. “If we keep raising the fees, we’re going to start losing the kids I think need it the most.”

Gray added that if the leagues can’t afford the fee, they will also stop maintaining the fields. The likely result is that nobody will be using the fields at all.

He said the baseball league hosted a tournament three years in a row which brought in more than 100 families from all over California.

“They stay in our hotels, they buy our food, they buy our gas,” said Gray. “That money is coming into the community. I’d say it’s $50,000-60,000 a weekend that baseball brings into this town.”

Gray said the fees were “targeting” sports families after the failed parks assessment district. He compared the usage fee to charging people to use the parks or the splash pad, but Strand said that “organized baseball is not a service provided to everybody in this community.”

“I understand you’re frustration. It’s not fair. But we’re only going to have $1,400 remaining at the end of what we’re proposing here,” said Stephens regarding the city’s general fund budget. “We’re trying to figure out how to make all these ends meet on a shoestring budget.”

After multiple chances for public input, including City Council meetings and Parks & Recreation/Quality of Life Committee meetings, Stephens said the parties leagues agreed to $100 per week that would go into a special fund for Kerr McGee Sports Park improvements. See this week’s print edition for updates.

Pictured: Christopher Gray with IWV Youth Baseball speaks out against the field-use fees at a Ridgecrest City Council meeting earlier this month — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2019-06-17