City’s current field fee rankings ‘flawed,’ Scarborough sports group says

City council unanimously approved waiving sports field fees on April 10 and to consult with sports groups in setting fees for 2013, but an official from a Scarborough sports group has called on the city to overhaul some of its field classification guidelines.

“There has to be an understanding on behalf of the city that you can’t just arbitrarily call something wonderful and charge for it when it’s garbage,” said Steve Donaldson, vice president of the Scarborough Soccer Association (SSA). Donaldson said he would be providing the city with a re-ranking of some of the city’s field facilities in the consultation process.

You can’t just arbitrarily call something wonderful and charge for it when it’s garbage.

— Steve Donaldson

While Toronto is currently the only municipality in the GTA that does not charge for its sports fields for youth leagues, Donaldson said other regions have “exceptional” fields that warrant the fees, and the city’s current method of grading the quality of fields was “flawed.”

He gave the example that Thomson Park, located near Brimley Road and Lawrence Avenue East, was a premier field, but is now used as an artillery range and the quality of the playing surface is “horrendous.”

“We’re not letting them use a flawed model to bill us,” Donaldson said.

The $1.5 million in permit fees for city-owned baseball diamonds, soccer fields and other sports fields was passed without debate or consultation in the city’s operating budget by councillors in mid-January. This caused an outcry from sports groups who had already set their membership rates for the upcoming year, but councillors said they were not aware they were voting on the new fees in the budget. The city would have charged teams depending on the quality of the fields they used.

It came to the attention of councillors after a town hall meeting held April 3 when sports groups converged on city hall to voice their disapproval of the fees. The groups argued that they had little to no time to raise funds, while members said taxing kids was “uncool.” The subsequent 41-0 vote to cancel the fees was passed without debate April 10.

“It was a very late night and [the budget] was passed as a block so it’s easy not to [notice] when they don’t know how kids’ sports works,” he said.

Donaldson said that should the fees have been implemented, it would have cost in excess of $20,000 for field costs, and cost individual rep teams around $1,500, or $100 per player to play. He added that notice of the fees arrived two days after the budget was passed, leaving no time to inform members of the fee change.

The city will transfer salary savings from the Parks and Recreation operating budget in order to offset the $1.5 million in fees.

Chair of the Parks and Environment committee, councillor Norm Kelly (Ward 40), said part of the blame was on councillors for not reaching out to sports groups, but organizers should have been more attentive to public information that affected them.

“I suspect that even if they were informed up front, they would still have been unhappy,” said Kelly. “But in the end the decision was made that because there was the perception of an incorrect or awkward procedure, we should roll back the fees.”

Kelly refuted claims that the ranking of sports fields was arbitrary, and said city staff are competent enough to judge the standards of city property.

“If there’s anyone that possesses particular knowledge, it’s the city compared to any other singular source out there,” Kelly said. “The city is willing to talk, and that’s a good thing, but in the end, if push comes to shove, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for the city to prevail. It’s their property.”

Kevin Sheehy, president of the Scarborough Baseball Association, said he was pleased to see the city change its stance.

“At this point, it’s pointless to point fingers,” he said.

Estimating the new fees, Sheehy said it would have cost $60,000 for all its groups, and total $100,000 for youth baseball programs in Scarborough.

He said he would hold discussions with the Toronto Baseball Association, as it would “be more appropriate to have a voice for all of baseball in Toronto.”

“We’re hoping that if they feel that fees are necessary, they come up with something more workable financially.”