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Field fee increase sparks renewed tension in Keizer’s youth sports

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Of the Keizertimes

The Keizer City Council balked at a request to hike fees $10 per field usage at the Keizer Little League complex during its meeting Monday, Dec. 18.

The request came from Keizer Little League (KLL), which manages the fields under a contract with the city, and drew sharp rebuke from McNary Youth Baseball (MYB), the former Keizer Youth Sports Association. KLL President Brad Arnsmeier said the fee increase was needed to help maintain the complex, especially in light of recent investment in rejuvenating the facility.

“We’re doing our best to rebuild a once-glorious park. The last year the comments have been overwhelmingly positive. We are rebuilding fields and making capital improvement. As we put more money into the fields we want to make sure that we maintain the field,” Arnsmeier said. “It’s not a cheap complex to run and we are proud to do so, but it takes money to do so.”

While the council ended up requesting more information before making a decision, the ask seemed to renew old animosities between KLL and MYB before the meeting was over.

To help make its case, KLL supplied the council with a list of expenses and improvements made during the past year. While expenses totaled more than $15,700 and improvements amounted to $21,700, the list did not include any mention of revenues generated through fees paid by participating families, concession sales, sponsorships or third party field rental. The only income listed at all was the amount paid by MYB last year for field usage, and KLL has been a recent recipient of grants from the Keizer Parks Board and the Rotary Club of Keizer to help pay for the ongoing improvements at the fields.

Even as Arnsmeier started making KLL’s case, the size of the increase met with resistance from Mayor Cathy Clark.

“It’s a variable increase because it is a fixed rate and that cost for the smallest fields is going up by 33 percent,” Clark said.

Under the proposed rate hike, the smallest fields would increase from $30 to $40 per two-hour time slot. The largest field would increase to $60 without the use of lights and to $145 with the use of lights. Arnsmeier said the $10 increase was chosen primarily for ease of accounting.

“Even with the increase, we’re still in line or less expensive than other fields in the Pacific Northwest,” Arnsmeier said. “When you factor in the cost of maintenance has to include what takes place in the off-season. You have to factor in the 12-month process, not just during one week in the middle of April.”

Ryan Walsh, president of MYB, spoke out against the increase.

“We’ve gone elsewhere because we can’t afford (the fees at Keizer Little League Park). We’ve had some community partners that have allowed us to use fields for free and we use those a ton,” Walsh said. “We decided to offer free T-ball this year and gotten a number of sponsors to make that possible. We’re very excited for that, but the revenue is tough to come by.”

Last year, MYB paid more than $5,700 in field use fees at Keizer Little League Park. Prior to the start of the season, MYB’s reserved spots amounting to nearly $2,000 more, but those were refunded when teams found other venues or were unable to convene a game or practice.

“One of my biggest concerns is that third parties using of the field that are offered discounts for the off-season. Maybe we should ask them to pay a bit more than adding it on for our own kids,” Walsh said.

Walsh’s other point of contention was that the fee increase was not discussed during a joint board meeting of the two groups in November, and only found out the council would be looking at the issue because of a phone call from City Attorney Shannon Johnson last week.

MYB board member Josh DeVos added that the expense would be more difficult to absorb given that MYB had already set its registration rates for the upcoming year.

“We decided to move our registrations up and we’ve set our prices for the year already and we’ve worked for months on those costs,” DeVos said.

Walsh said increasing the fees would add another $1,900 to MYB’s planned expenses.

Arnsmeier responded that the decision to ask for the fee increase wasn’t made until a retreat later in November, and tried to put the onus back on MYB.

“The business decision with the free T-ball put them in a bind,” Arnsmeier said.

Clint Holland, manager of the concession stand, added that not showing up for reserved times also had an impact on concession sales of up to $120 per empty field slot.

At that point, the temperature in the room grew more heated as MYB representatives clamored to respond. However, Clark cut the conversation short.

“We need to table this. We need info on true costs and I don’t have enough information on the budgets of both organizations. We don’t have enough information here tonight,” Clark said.

Councilor Roland Herrera, who earlier in the evening had backed the request for the increase, walked back his endorsement after hearing from both sides.

“I was a KLL guy, but I’m a bigger Keizer guy. I jumped the gun on this and it has to be good for all the kids of Keizer,” Herrera said.

KLL has about 450 registered players. MYB has approximately 300. The council plans to look at the issue again on Tuesday, Jan. 16.