Published February 25. 2014 2:00PM Updated February 26. 2014 12:24AM
Stonington — The Recreation Commission is recommending the town implement an hourly fee that local youth sports leagues would have to pay to use town fields.
The commission made the recommendation at its Monday night meeting, which was attended by representatives of youth lacrosse, soccer and football programs. The lacrosse program, the Stonington Seals, had criticized the fee schedule and expressed concerns about how field time would be allocated.
Commission Chairman C. Michael Crowley said Tuesday that his commission has assured the leagues that town leagues would get preference when it came to scheduling field time and would be given as much time as possible.
The Seals program is worried about not getting the practice time it needs and that out-of-town teams and programs that pay higher fees would get the fields before town teams.
The town recently spent $2.8 million to renovate the athletic fields behind the high school and install artificial turf on the football field. Youth leagues use these fields as well as those at other schools in town.
The town wants to implement the fees to help offset a small portion of the estimated $136,000 annual cost to maintain the fields as well as the $400,000 it will cost in 10 to 12 years to replace the artificial turf. The fees for the youth leagues are expected to initially generate about $13,000 a year.
The town is also developing a fee schedule to charge groups other than the local youth teams who want to use the fields. Those fees would be much higher than the maximum $10 an hour fee that youth leagues would have to pay.
The fee schedule, which was developed by the commission and Recreation Administrator Joe Mendonca Jr., calls for a sliding fee schedule based on how often the teams use the field. The per-hour costs increase 50 cents for every 50 additional hours.
For example, a team that uses a field for up to 49 hours in a season would be charged $5 an hour. Teams that use the fields up to 250 hours would be charged $7 an hour, and those that use it for 500 hours would be charged $10 an hour, or $5,000. If teams use the fields for more than 500 hours, they would still pay the maximum fee of $5,000.
Stonington Youth Football would use the fields for 486 hours at a cost of $4,617. This breaks down to $21.99 for each of its 210 players.
The Seals, with 240 players, is requesting 782 hours of field time. At the maximum fee of $5,000, the cost would be $20.83 per player.
Crowley said the fee would not be instituted this spring and would likely not take effect until the fall.
Seals President Deborah Dempsey said Tuesday she has a game scheduling meeting in two weeks, but she still does not have anything in writing from the town telling her she has the field she requested. Without that commitment, she said it is difficult to schedule games.
She suggested that the town form a committee with representatives from the school board, Public Works Department and Recreation Commission that would meet three times a year to receive field requests from the leagues and allocate times for practice and games. She said this would ensure fairness for all those requesting the use of the fields.
Dempsey said she understood there was a need for money to keep the fields in top condition. Lack of maintenance and overuse are the reasons why the town undertook the $2.8 million field renovation project.
Crowley called the proposed fee and scheduling plan a good start but added that if changes are needed, the commission would make them.
The commission's recommendation now goes to the Athletic Fields Improvements Oversight Committee, which will decide whether to put them in effect.