Groups to oppose proposed fees for use of Stonington athletic fields

Stonington - Representatives of youth sports leagues in town are expected to oppose a plan to charge them and other organizations an hourly fee to use the town's athletic fields.

The Athletic Fields Task Force, which meets tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Human Services Building, is reviewing the proposal drafted by Recreation Administrator Joe Mendonca Jr. and the Recreation Commission. Any changes to the town's policy regarding use of its athletic fields would have to approved and implemented by the Board of Selectmen.

Representatives of the youth football, lacrosse and soccer programs are expected to make a unified presentation opposing the plan, which they say could as much as double the fees they charge their players.

The town had discussed the fees this winter but made no move to implement them.

The town recently spent $2.8 million to renovate the athletic fields behind the high school and install artificial turf on the football field. Taxpayers will pay for those improvements through debt payments in the annual budget. In addition to public school teams, youth leagues as well as teams from other schools in town use the fields.

The town is considering implementing the fees to help offset a small portion of the estimated $130,000 it costs annually to maintain the fields, as well as the $400,000 it would cost in 10 to 12 years to replace the artificial turf.

Paul Sartor, chairman of the task force, likened the proposal to the town's yellow garbage bag program, in which residents only pay to dispose of the garbage they generate.

In the case of the fields, the users would help pay for some of the maintenance.

"I think it's reasonable that the users pay something. The question is, how much?" Sartor said. "I'm looking forward to a nice, robust conversation about this."

For community youth athletic organizations, the plan includes a sliding fee schedule based on how often the teams use a field. The costs begin at $5 an hour for up to 49 hours and increase by 50 cents an hour for every 50 additional hours used.

An organization that uses a field for 500 hours would pay $10 an hour for a total of $5,000.

The proposal includes separate hourly fee schedules for the use of the artificial turf field, grass fields, tennis and basketball courts by in-town nonprofit groups, out-of-town nonprofit groups and for-profit groups, such as camps and businesses. The fees for these groups would be much higher than those paid by the youth teams.

For example, using the artificial turf field would cost a local nonprofit group $50 an hour, an out-of-town nonprofit $100 an hour and a for-profit group $125 an hour.

There are additional hourly costs for using the lights, scoreboard/public address system and the press box.

The proposal also states that school activities have priority use of the fields, followed by Recreation Department activities.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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