City budget shockwaves: Youth-sports leagues fight fee hikes

(Panorama of Bar-S fields; photo courtesy West Seattle Little League)
Some sunny Saturday, not that far away, the West Seattle Little League will take the field at Bar-S Playfield. Right now, in addition to dealing with their ongoing Snack Shack project at the field, they are signing up players – and dealing with what WSLL president Mark Terao calls “shocking news”: They’re being asked to pay almost $13,000 in fees to the city this year, up from $5,000 last year, to help balance the city budget.

In a reply to Terao, circulated in a league-wide e-mail, Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, who chairs the Parks Committee, says the fee increases – for adult sports as well as youth sports, and other activities – are “unfortunate but necessary.” Tomorrow, WSLL reps are planning to bring their concerns to Bagshaw and Councilmember Sally Clark at a community-conversation event they are hosting on First Hill, and at least one other local youth-sports organization is hoping to do the same – more on that later.

For one example of how the fee increase translates, Terao explains:

“Our Seniors team has roughly 12 players. They play up at Hiawatha and with the new rates the cost per player for just the field use will be $275 per player. We currently charge $140 per player.”

Increased fees were part of the new city budget from the moment Mayor McGinn proposed it last year, up through the City Council’s final approval vote in November, but Terao tells WSB they didn’t get any notice “until we received this year’s schedule … it shocked our board and we had to try and do something.” So they have been going public with their concerns.

You might say, well, you use it, you need to pay your fair share. Terao says it’s not as simple as that – their total contribution may actually exceed that: “I do not believe the Mayor or City Council took in the fact that many leagues such as WSLL and WS Pee Wee use a lot of the registration fees and 100 of volunteer hours to maintain the fields we play on. I find it baffling that they can approve this hike in fees and in the same breath inform us that the services to the parks will also be greatly reduced.” (Another part of the Parks budget, to make up for a deficit that the city’s been warning about, cuts maintenance provided by Parks staff.)

WSLL is making the case that its fees for Bar-S should be waived because of the amount of time and money they are putting into it, but even if they get that waiver, he says it’s a bigger problem, citywide: “We all have to work together to keep youth sports affordable and available to all of our kids in all of Seattle, not just West Seattle.” He points out that the cuts in community-center hours – Alki Community Center, for example, had its hours and staff cut – “the kids are running out of options to stay safe, healthy and out of trouble. I do not know if we will make a difference at this point but we have to try.”

After hearing from Terao, we contacted the West Seattle Soccer Club for comment. Board member Tim McMonigle replied:

From a soccer club standpoint, we were aware of the increase of fees being implemented this year. We understand the concern that Mark and the WSLL club feels because they found out about this after they set their fees and started registration, so it will be much harder for them to recover from the extra cost.

The major users of fields in Seattle (of which the WSSC is one) were not consulted about the fee increase, so a 100% increase of fees for games and an almost 150% increase for our practice time seems unfair for all the reasons Mark mentioned. We serve a very diverse group of kids in West Seattle, and we give out a fair number of scholarships, so this fee increase will hurt those causes. We also perform a lot of our own maintenance on the fields we use (field lining, filling holes, picking up garbage, repairing/replacing nets, etc), so the decrease in services accompanied by an increase in fees does not make sense. We understand the budget issues facing the city, and are willing to help.

On top of that, we have also been told of a new light fee of $20/hour for this year. All of our practice times are at night, and towards the end of the season many of our games are played under the lights. So this will impact our fees dramatically as well. We have met with the city council, and have joined with the Seattle Youth Soccer Association (SYSA) in trying to come up with a compromise to these large increases, specifically the new light fee. We are an all-volunteer club serving 1600 kids in the fall and almost 1000 kids in the spring, so we have no choice but to pass these fees along to our membership. We try our best to keep the experience for our membership a very positive one, but things like these increases are out of our control.

So the WSSC and WSLL have circulated e-mail asking supporters to attend tomorrow’s event with Councilmembers Bagshaw and Clark, which is detailed here – 9 to 11 am at the Corner Cafe, 1000 Madison, on First Hill (here’s a map).

10 Replies to "City budget shockwaves: Youth-sports leagues fight fee hikes"

  • Cami January 28, 2011 (5:43 pm)

    Tracy, thank you so much for sharing this information! I know that both volunteers for West Seattle Little League and West Seattle Soccer Club put in countless hours of time to organize and give our kids an opportunity to learn and grow as citizens, not just as athletes. These non-profit clubs should not be treated the same as for profit organizations that use Park’s fields! How much should a t-baller have to pay to play on Seattle fields? $200? Really? I can go to the field and throw a baseball with my son and his friends for free, but add a coach and team name and we PAY TO PLAY? This is just bad policy.

    • WSB January 28, 2011 (5:56 pm)

      According to a phone call we just received, some private schools are dealing with this as well, if they use Parks fields. I’m not sure how much room this Corner Café has but we’ll be there tomorrow morning … TR

  • Genesee Hill January 28, 2011 (6:55 pm)

    Unfortunately, I believe this is a sign of the times. And, there is more to come.

  • dsa January 28, 2011 (7:20 pm)

    Post an address, I’ll send a contribution.

  • coffee January 28, 2011 (7:48 pm)

    I don’t agree with the way this was handled by the city meaning short notice to the groups. The city has known for months of their budget issues and to wait till after the leagues have started stetting up is bad policy. We have all known for quite some time that the parks department is very short on funds so I guess an increase is to be expected but this is a bit much.

  • miws January 28, 2011 (8:31 pm)

    I just checked out Corner Café’s Yelp page, and under “Good for groups” the answer is “yes”. So, it sounds like there’s some room there, and it’s not as intimate as Meanders or Zippy’s. ;)



  • youthworker January 28, 2011 (10:26 pm)

    If it weren’t for the outside organizations Seattle Parks employees could actually use their own fields to program and bring in revenue. Stop complaining. The budget is a reality and it costs a lot of money for maintaining the spaces when you factor in utilities, labor, fuel, equipment, etc.

  • runnergirl January 28, 2011 (11:21 pm)

    I am a huge supporter of WSSC, my children have been players for many years now. I’m also a manager/player for adult co-rec soccer. My Co-Rec team is feeling the pain of increased fees. Do I feel badly about this? No, not really. It is a luxury item as is youth softball/soccer. It isn’t an essential in life. When it is too expensive for my pocketbook we will quit. If you want to play ball for free, then take the time to go toss/kick the ball with your kid. One-to-one time with your child is just as character building as organized sport. However, if you must have organized sports then plan to cough up the cash. Don’t expect the city to prioritize sport fields, a luxury item, over other essential city services.

  • Momof3 January 29, 2011 (6:58 am)

    Wow, Youthworker! I was pretty happy to accept budget cuts as the reason for user fees increasing. I’m certain we are just at the begining of lots of painful cuts.
    I used to regularly register my children for park district-run courses and they would so often end up being cancelled that we just stopped registering. Sometimes we wouldn’t even get a phone call, we’d just show up and there was no class. Getting refunds was a slow and arduous process. I am a firm supporter of community programs so if getting these ‘outside organizations’ off your fields helps you get your act together, I look forward to an improved community service from you,

  • Ron Burgundy January 30, 2011 (12:03 pm)

    @Youthworker & Runnergirl

    I have 3 children playing youth sports around West Seattle. I am not opposed to paying more for the use of fields, however, I find it very unreasonable to bill the leagues without giving them some idea of the amount of the increase prior to them opening registration. The timing on this did not allow them time to adjust the entry fees accordingly.

    Also, I find it very hard to believe that the increases are going towards the maintanance of the fields. It is my gut feeling that the increases were made to make up for other short comings in the city budget, and that I have a real problem with. I’d like to see a breakdown of the cost of maintaining a West Seattle City Park athletic field and see if the fee increases reflect that cost.

Sorry, comment time is over.