Published February 24. 2014 4:00AM
Stonington - Officials and parents from the Stonington Seals youth lacrosse program are criticizing plans by the town to charge their players and those on other youth teams to use the town's athletic fields, some of which have recently been renovated at a cost of $2.8 million.
Deborah Dempsey, the president of the 200-player lacrosse league, said none of the youth lacrosse programs it competes against in surrounding towns are charged fees by their towns to use fields. She said parents are also upset about the fees after having supported the taxpayer-funded $2.8 million project to fix the grass fields at the high school and install artificial turf on the football field, which can also be used for lacrosse, soccer and field hockey.
She said her organization also has concerns about how much access youth teams will now have to the fields and if outside groups will be given scheduling preference especially if they are paying high fees.
The Seals, which use fields at Mystic and Pawcatuck middle schools and the high school, have almost completed their registration for the upcoming spring season. This means if the fee was implemented for the spring, the Seals would have to charge players who have already paid an additional amount of money. Dempsey added there has also been discussion by the town of an hourly fee to use the fields.
Seals members are expected to attend today's Recreation Commission meeting at 6 p.m. at the Human Services Building where the commission is slated to discuss the fee and possibly make a recommendation to the Athletic Fields Improvements Oversight Committee to implement it.
Commission Chairman C. Michael Crowley said Sunday that before work even began on the fields, the commission has talked to the Board of Finance about starting to charge fees to help offset some of the town's $136,000 annual cost to maintain the fields as well as the $400,000 it will cost in an estimated 10 to 12 years to replace the artificial turf.
He said the per player fees, which could range from $10 and $20 a season, would only cover a small percentage of the maintenance costs.
"Were just trying to recoup some of the money from the people who use the fields," he said, likening it to the town's pay-per-bag garbage disposal plan.
"It's not intended to hurt anyone here," he said.
But Dempsey said the town should have figured in the maintenance costs into the total project cost.
Crowley pledged that the commission will listen to the Seals concerns and be fair. He disputed their contention that other towns don't charge fees for youth teams and said both the Stonington Soccer Club and Stonington Youth Football have not complained about the fee.