Council hits fee out of the park

City waives costs for sports fields after complaints from cash-strapped leagues

City council has unanimously approved waiving $1.5 million in sports field fees and consulting with sports groups in setting fees for 2013.

An official from a Scarborough sports group said the fees are undeserved, especially if paid toward low-quality fields.

Toronto is the only municipality in the GTA that doesn’t charge for its sports fields for youth leagues.

Steve Donaldson, vice-president of the Scarborough Soccer Association, said other regions have exceptional fields that warrant the fees.

“There has to be an understanding on behalf of the city that you can’t just arbitrarily call something wonderful and charge for it even when it’s garbage,” he said.

Had the fees gone through, the city would have charged teams depending on the quality of fields they used.

“We’re not letting them use a flawed model to bill us,” Donaldson said, adding the city’s current method of grading the quality of fields was flawed.

Donaldson said he would be providing the city with a re-ranking of some of the city’s field facilities in the consultation process.

He used Thomson Park, located near Brimley Road and Lawrence Avenue East, as an example. According to him, the park was a premier field, but is now used as an artillery range, causing the quality of its playing surface to become horrendous.

Coun. Norm Kelly (Ward 40), chair of the parks and environment committee, refuted claims that the ranking of sports fields was arbitrary.

He said the city’s staff is 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.”

Despite the disagreement on the fields’ quality, sports groups were rejoicing in their victory when a subsequent 41-0 vote to cancel the fees was passed without debate April 10.

“At this point, it’s pointless to point fingers,” said Scarborough Baseball Association (SBA) president Kevin Sheehy, who was pleased to see the city change its stance.

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

Donaldson added it would have led to more than $20,000 for field costs, $1,500 for individual rep teams, and $100 per player to play.

The city has agreed to transfer salary savings from the city’s parks and recreation operating budget in order to offset the $1.5 million in fees.

The new fee caused an outcry from sports groups who already set their membership rates for the coming year.

Kelly said although councillors are partly to blame for not reaching out to sports groups, organizers should have also 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,” Kelly said.

“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.”

Sheehy is looking on the brighter side.

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