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Woonsocket leagues express anger, feelings over proposed fees to use city's fields

February 16, 2013

The defending state champion Navigant Post 85 American Legion baseball team, which plays its home games at Renaud Field, could find itself paying fees to use the ballpark this summer.

WOONSOCKET — Tommy Brien is livid. So are Dave Jarrett and the other volunteers in Woonsocket who run youth and recreational leagues and use the city’s parks and fields.
Brien reported on Thursday night that on the agenda of Monday’s City Council meeting is a proposal to establish fees for those who participate in the recreational programs that utilize the city’s facilities -- charges that could severely cripple the budgets of some of the city’s leagues.
And to add some fuel to the fire, noted Brien, a past president and a member of the board of directors of the East Woonsocket Little League, not one league official was notified of the proposal.
“This was going to sneak through unless we caught it, which we did on Wednesday,” remarked Brien. “The biggest thing that upset all the league presidents is that no communication from the new Parks & Recreation Department director was made to one league official in the city. No one saw this coming.”
“We found out by word of mouth,” added Jarrett, the president of the Bernon Little League. “ ‘It’s on the agenda. Do you want to take a lot of that?’ I only found out about it literally (Friday).”
Four tiers of charges were issued in the proposal, including one that offered no charges to the Park & Recreational programs and other city-sponsored events, the Woonsocket Public School Department, and any city school or business holding an annual event.
The second tier offered minimal charges to youth recreational organizations with at least 81% residency among their players, such as the Bernon Little League, EWLL baseball and softball programs, and Woonsocket Youth Soccer Association, and the third tier offered intermediate level fees to youth organizations with at least 51% residency, such as the Navigant Post 85 American Legion junior and senior baseball teams and the Woonsocket Pony League, as well as adult organizations with at least 51% residency, such as the city’s bocce and quoits league.
The largest fees were listed on the fourth tier of charges, and they included AAU tournaments and adult recreational organizations with less than 81% percent residency, such as the softball leagues that use Baldelli Field and Bouley Field.
“The (men’s and co-ed) softball leagues are looking at paying over $16,000, and that’s a big cost,” said Brien. “The old-timers who play in the senior softball league on Fridays, for them to pay $75 a day to use the field, they probably use it 20 times a year, and you’re looking at paying over $1,500 to play.
“Our league barely breaks even, with the cost throughout the year for umpires, uniforms, equipment, things like that,” he added. “If we do end up with some extra money, we’ll put it towards our banquet, We’re non-profit leagues. We’re not dragging millions of dollars. This is Woonsocket.”
Also included in the fourth tier charges are hourly charges to use the fields, most of which are in the $35-45 range, and Brien noted that could hamper the Ocean State Diamond tournament, a prestigious youth baseball invitational that invades Woonsocket, Cumberland, and North Smithfield during the last weekend of July, from playing games at Renaud Field.
“You’re looking at some of the best baseball around,” Brien said of the tournament, which is held by Triple Crown Sports of Long Island, N.Y. and features ballplayers from ages 13-19. “In last year’s championship game, three kids sign Letter of Intents right on the field to St. John’s, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina. We’re bringing in 26 teams from several states and it’s bringing in economic development. People are booking rooms at the Holiday Inn, and last year, they were packing Chelos and going to Patriot’s Diner every morning for breakfast. They’re dumping money into the economy.
“If these fees pass, (Triple Crown Sports) isn’t going to be able to afford to bring the tournament here. They’re going to have to find another site outside of Woonsocket, and who benefits? Cumberland and North Smithfield. Their prices to use their fields are very, very reasonable.”
A few of the city’s youth leagues, such as the Bernon and East Woonsocket Little Leagues and the Woonsocket Pony League, scheduled registration sessions on Saturday and reported fees hovering in the $50-$68 range. Brien also fears that if the proposal passes, families could be looking at paying nearly $100 per child to play baseball.
“How do you go back, recalculate your numbers, and say, ‘Okay, (each player) is going to have to come up with this much more money?” he questioned. “You might be looking at $87 per child, probably more. Again, this is Woonsocket. We have a lot of hardships as it is, with parents being unable to pay for their kids.”
Jarrett added that his league, like every other one in Woonsocket, only gets his lawn cut by the city and receives nothing else.
“We’re upset about it because we just built dugouts at Dunn Park and that cost our league $4,000,” he remarked. “And that was from our own money. We fundraised to do that, and that’s on a city field. Everything we do on all three of our fields is done with league money. All the city has done is mowed the grass. They haven’t put lines down or done any other maintenance. We’ve done that.”
Speaking of maintenance, the proposal states that “the collection of fees will help to offset the cost of providing and maintaining the fields and facilities.” What does this mean for the city’s leagues?
“Nobody’s been given an answer on that,” said Brien. “Hopefully, we’ll get an answer Monday night.”
Brien and the rest of the leagues not only hope to get an answer, but also a swift end to the proposal.
“The biggest gripe I heard was from someone who’s a taxpayer who said, ‘We’re already paying taxes to use these fields,” added Brien. “It’s crazy. It doesn’t make any sense. But we’ll see what happens on Monday night. The men’s softball league is going to have representatives there. The (Woonsocket) Redskins (youth football team) and Charlie Baldelli are going to have people there. You’re going to be looking at a packed house.”

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