City’s new field user fees strike out with angry user groups

The president of Campbell River’s Slo-Pitch League says an increase to city field rental fees will hurt the recreational league.

President Chad Braithwaite said that under the new scheme, the league is looking at being hit with double last year’s fees.

“Last year we paid $4,400. If we use last year’s schedule, with the new fees we’re looking at close to $11,000,” Braithwaite said.

City council has endorsed a new fee structure that was drafted by city staff over the course of this year. It was prompted by council’s direction to staff to undertake a comprehensive review of user fees charged at city facilities.

The current user fee system charges on a per player, per sport, per season basis.

For youth that fee was $10 per youth, per sport, per season and $22 for each adult, per sport, per season.

That is set to change next year to an hourly booking system.

For youth, the fee would be $5 per hour, per field for youth teams and $20 per hour for adult teams.

Tournament fees would follow those same fees but be capped at eight hours, or $160 per field per day for adult tournaments and capped at $40 for youth tournament bookings.

The fees would also apply to School District 72 fields which are booked through the city.

Ross Milnthorp, the city’s general manager of parks, recreation and culture, said the city intends to move to an hourly booking system in order to create an equitable fee structure for all users, and better manage field availability and field maintenance.

“We’re implementing new recreation management software and to have field bookings in that system they have to be booked by hour,” Milnthorp said. “It will also help us track field usage in a more efficient way and help us be able to see which fields are used more and allocate resources more carefully.”

But Mike Wieringa, vice-president of the Slo-pitch League, said the league’s issue is that its members are paying more and they feel they’re not getting anything extra in exchange for those additional dollars.

“It’s our big fight,” Wieringa said. “Basically we have to tell our people ‘you’re paying more and not getting more from it’ and that’s our big struggle.”

Braithwaite said, in the league’s opinion, the city fields aren’t being maintained properly.

Games and practices are typically held at the city’s Willow Point Park, and Carihi, Georgia Park and Pinecrest schools roughly five days a week.

“We shouldn’t have to be worried about tripping in a hole and breaking our leg,” Braithwaite said. “There’s holes and lips and the condition of the fields is deteriorating over the years.”

Milnthorp, though, said he’s received positive feedback over the condition of the city’s fields.

“The indication we get from the majority of user groups is that  the city fields are in very good shape,” he said, adding that “all revenue generated by field rentals goes directly back into field maintenance.”

Last year, the cost of sports field maintenance was $231,000 and revenue generated from field user fees was $18,985, according to the city.

But Braithwaite said it’s not just about the money, but how the city went about changing the fees.

He said that the slo-pitch league met twice with city staff, once in April and again in May, and that they were told the issue was not debatable but that they could voice their concerns to council before the fees were set in stone.

Braithwaite said he was in disbelief when city staff sent out an email to the all field user groups two weeks ago saying the new fees had been approved by council.

“They stole our voice to let council know how we felt about this,” Braithwaite said. “It’s a big accountability issue.”

Wieringa concurs.

“We’re mad we didn’t get a voice,” he said. “They said we’d get a chance to make our case to council but we never got that opportunity.”

Milnthorp said there is still time for user groups to have their say.

The rates, before becoming a done deal, must be approved by council by way of a bylaw amendment which has to be done in three stages at three consecutive council meetings in January. The city has notified all the user groups that they will have the opportunity to address council in person by submitting a delegation application to City Hall.

Which is what Braithwaite was looking for.

“We’d like a chance to speak out on the fees,” Braithwaite said. “We obviously don’t agree with the fee structure. It would more than double some league fees and jeopardize our charity tournaments.”

Milnthorp, for his part, said he sees the rates as fair.

“If the field is $20 per hour and 20 are playing, to break it down per participant use, it’s $1 per person and that’s very cheap.”

But Braithwaite said that’s only part of the picture.

“For us it’s the wrong way to do math,” he said. “They’re forgetting we also have to pay for our own insurance, we have equipment, we have umpires to pay. There’s a more broad expense.”

Still, Milnthorp, contends, under the new fee structure prices are still reasonable.

According to a city report, fees in municipalities of a similar size and with similar facilities, and on Vancouver Island, charge on average between $7.02 and $17.62 for youth per hour and $16.33 and $33.17 for adults per hour.