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Recoiling Over Park Fees, Little Leagues Shine a Light on Palm Coast’s Increasing Insularity

| October 6, 2011

'Can you believe what the city wants to charge for our lights?'

On the surface, the debate that took place at the Palm Coast City Council Tuesday evening about fees the city charges for use of public playing fields was about just that: fees, and whether the city was charging too much for non-profit organizations like little league and flag football to bear.

But the debate revealed a lot more than that. It was about a city so out of touch with its community organizations that it had no idea what cost burdens it was imposing on them with its new fees. It was about a city so intent on profiting from its facilities, even though those facilities are already paid for with taxpayer dollars, that it has been pricing out organizations from using them, as it has with rules and costs for parades and use of Town Center. It’s about a city that claims to be kid-friendly and champions sports events such as lacrosse or soccer tournaments as means of generating economic activity while at the same time enacting costly regulations that undermine those claims. And it’s about a city that invites home builders or developers or land owners to the table when writing new rules that affect them, but didn’t think to invite community sports organizations that field thousands of city children in afterschool activities every year between them.

On Tuesday, council members heard an earful from leaders of those sports organizations, who focused particularly on a new lighting fee the city wanted to charge for use of playing fields. The $10-per-hour lighting fee, in addition to other city fees, would have made it difficult for leagues to operate or maintain their enrollment, organizers said. (In its background material to council member, the city administration listed, for comparison’s sake, the $100 to $150 the county charges for uses of its fields, but the figures are inaccurate: the county doesn’t charge youth leagues for use of the fields, only individual, adult teams, a county spokesman said.)

As they spoke, and as council members reacted, the gulf between the city administration’s insularity and the effects its rules would have on organizations’ recruiting became more and more apparent, finally culminating in one city council member, Frank Meeker, literally throwing up his hands several times as he excoriated the proposed rules and the broader effect of the city’s overbearing rules on community organizations.

“You know, federal government allows you guys to be a non-profit corporation and yet we tend to treat you as customers when you come into the program and we start looking at fees. I’m concerned that we’re pricing not only smaller clubs out of the market, but smaller teams out of the market,” Meeker said, as he went on to outline the inequities of the city’s proposed fees as they’d apply, say, to a team of 16 as opposed to a team of five members.

With soccer, baseball and lacrosse, a tournament organizer would have to put up $700 in insurance, $500 in marketing, $1,600 in referees, and now, in addition, a $250 security deposit up front, $100 a day to rent concession space, and lights adding around $60, Meeker calculated. Seasonal fees of around $3,000 per organization are already steep under the current system. Palm Coast would be adding $480 to $640 per team under the new system, Meeker said. “That just increased my cost per player from anywhere from $32 to $46 per player,” Meeker said. “And that’s assuming that I’ve got 15 players. So if I’ve got five players like that team, I haven’t done the math on that, the costs are obviously much greater. There is some built-in inequity because of the size of the teams, and there’s also inequities between larger clubs that can distribute these costs versus smaller clubs that cannot distribute these costs as equally. I have a real problem with this. I’d just rather not be charging, period, for this kind of stuff.”

He then illustrated how Palm Coast may be shooting itself in the foot, going for a few extra dollars while losing sight of its own big-picture claims: “I placed a phone call to Kevin McGovern at U.S. Club Soccer. I said, what’s our likelihood of getting the nationals here, or one of the regional things here, and he says, how much are you fees? I discussed with him these fees, and he says, we’ve been talking to Melbourne, Melbourne are willing to give us the entire facility to bring the entire tournament down there and not charge us a dime. I’m concerned that in taking this approach we’re doing the same thing that we did to parades. We pushed parades down to Town Center, right? And how many parades do we have now? Not many. So. We put these kinds of impacts on teams, we’re impacting families, we’re impacting kids. I’m not in favor of this at all.”

Nor were council members Holsey Moorman and Bill Lewis. Moorman prefaced his remarks by telling sports organizers that they could have turned up at the city’s leisure services committee meeting that had discussed and recommended the fees. But few people pay attention to city committees, whose work and agendas are only obscurely noticed on the city’s website, which is why, when the city wants involvement, it expressly invites those who would be affected by proposed policies to be part of the discussion. The city didn’t do so in this case.


“If you could possibly hold it off, think about it, get all the organizations together, see how it’s going to affect us and the kids,” Beth Peets, who’s involved in phantom football and little league, told the council, “because what’s going to happen is we’re going to have the drop-off of the kids, and unfortunately they’ve nothing else to do then but to sit in front of those video games because mom and dad can’t afford to put them in a sports organization.”

Doug Berryhill, a board member with Palm Coast Little League, and Fred Lewers, the 2011 recipient of the national Little League Volunteer of the Year Award, echoed the same sentiments regarding their organization, which involves between 500 and 700 children a year, 25 to 30 percent of them from single-mom households.

“We have never taken or asked for money from the city, the county or anyone else,” Lewers said. “We have 150 to 175 volunteers who keep these kids active and off the streets. We pay no one. They are all volunteers, managers, coaches, board members, even umpires. We have cost for players and liability insurance, equipment and uniforms. Registration fee is $55 per year, fall and spring. Teams play approximately 30 games each, little less than two bucks a game. At 70 teams, times these costs, are thousands of dollars to us. We need sponsors to get that money in hand, and that’s getting tougher and tougher. We do not have the funds for this. Families are hurting, unemployment, etc. You need to get out and talk to these young parents who are struggling.”

All but one of the council members put their young-parenting days behind them sometime during the Nixon administration or thereabout.

frank meeker palm coast city council

Frank Meeker. (© FlaglerLive)

Meeker, the exception, is active in soccer leagues: “This entire thing I believe needs to be vetted properly with all of the associations that deal with us,” Meeker said. “I think Synchro Belles, the president of the Synchro Belles needs to be at least notified there’s going to be changes in the fee structured on things, or the president from Palm Coast Little League, all these guys need to be hearing, sitting down with Luanne [Santangelo, the parks director]. I don’t care if they take an abacus, a calculator, or a computer and look at their overall costs and discuss the type of impacts it’s going to have on their program, because until you sit down and put it in some kind of spread sheet, gentlemen you have no idea what these costs are going to be, and you can’t just, you know, show up and hope for the best, so we really need to vet this problem.”

The city is proposing to revamp its entire facilities, parks, pavilions and community center fee structure. (See below for the complete proposal.) Council members voted to table the proposal, with the understanding that most of it can go forward, with the exception of the fees proposed for athletic facilities and tournaments. Lewis moved to have those re-examined, with the explicit involvement of sports organization representatives affected by the changes.

Lewis, too, has been displeased with the city’s imposition of steeper fees on public facilities beyond sports leagues.

bill lewis palm coast city council member

Bill Lewis. (© FlaglerLive)

“When we look at fees, we tend to look at the non-profits as though they are a business, but they’re not a business, at least the ones we have in Palm Coast,” Lewis said. “Non-profits are struggling. We’ve done fees before, we’ve done fees with use of our facilities and they’re hurting us. They still are hurting us. But when it comes to parks and recreation, we talk about kids, and when we talk about kids, these kids are off the streets, not getting into trouble, and giving us less gray hairs.”

Lewis added: “I think we have to understand that money is important, but something else is important, and that’s community participation, community involvement, and the city should be partnering with these organizations and not just trying to cover their expenses but also trying to help them move forward. I don’t know if these heads of these groups were notified or involved in these deliberations, but consultation is always great, because then we have less discussion at the end. I’m having some problems right now listening to some of the people talking, having participated in Little League and Pop Warner and all that stuff, and I know what it is, volunteers giving their time. We’ve got to be a little kid friendly when it comes to—I know we need the money, but we also need to keep these kids off the streets.”

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13 Responses for “Recoiling Over Park Fees, Little Leagues Shine a Light on Palm Coast’s Increasing Insularity”

  1. Brittney says:

    Palm coast is OUT OF THEIR MINDS….. they want the city to be filled with banks and empty “strip malls aka towne centers and city walks” . KIDS NEED TO BE BUSY OR THEY GET INTO TROUBLE, FACT!!! If parents cant afford higher fees and teams cant afford fees, what will the kids do??? hang out at ralph carter where there is always some crime being reported or start hanging out on the streets possibly causing more problems for home owners or the city………. PC needs to get a reality check and quick……

  2. jennifer says:

    I think it is interesting that no one brought up the electric bill for the use of the lights. Yes, the youth need fields to play on, and while the fields may currently be paid for, they need constant maintenance going beyond just mowing and lining the field. To be safe, they need to be re-sodded periodically, checked for holes and other divots which could injure players.

    To run field electrical lights is expensive, very expensive. These are not your interior home lights. By having a cost per hour, you have the flexibility to not pay when the lights are not on. Earlier games or even weekend games become appealing.

    Concession stands must be maintained. The youth organizations that use them are raising money for their programs. Also, all of these groups take sports photos and group pictures. There is money that goes to back to these organizations from those photo shoots.

    As for tournaments, typically the organization hosting requests additional field maintenance so the organization can put its best foot forward. New nets, new sod, new paint are typical requests. These can be addressed with a fee based system, giving groups discounts if they have a seasonal permit.

    Also, did any of these groups apply for grants from Flagler County’s Board of Recreation? Most counties have money for non-profit youth organizations to help offset costs, there is an application process, but if the money is not used in a year it is lost.

    The city needs to look at a balance of fees to help offset the cost per child for playing. Registration costs the parent and they do not need to pay any more than they already are. Depending on the season though, if you looked at per child cost for running lights and performing maintenance for a season, you will probably see the city spends about the same amount per child as the organization. I want to see all children be able to participate, but I also want to see well maintained and safe fields for those children to play.

  3. PalmCoastPioneers says:

    ‘ Palm Coasts ‘ Community Park’

    Could this be an option for some / all of the non-profits groups and our young children:


    , all due for completion by summer, 1988:
    A 7,000 square foot pool with multi-use facility, built by PCC:
    Three ( 3 ) tennis courts, two (2) racquetball courts, three ( 3 ) softball diamonds, two soccer fields;
    A new $ 700,000 community park, designed for the young and the young at heart, is underway on

    11 acres

    between the new Wadsworth Elementary School and Belle Terre Middle School. Financial Support from

    the state, county and school district

    made the park a reality, helped by land and in-kind services donations from ITT-CDC and an enthusiastic public.
    Here’s what’s planned
    Two “play hills,” the latest in playground design and equipment;
    Extension of existing jogging/exercise trail;
    Picnic area with gazebo.
    The public will share the park with students and their programs, so it benefits many in many ways, the perfect compliment to SunSport amenities.
    And on and on Palm Coast grows.

    The Band Played on The Belle Terre Middle School Marching Eagle Band’s tuba player did his part at park dedication

    FR: ‘The Palm Coaster’ , Winter 1988, p. 13.
    Update on Palm Coasts’ first Neighborhood Park and Neighborhood Parking area – ‘ still unchanged’ – we asked and asked and asked the city to please give us back Palm Coasts first Neighborhood Park and Neighborhood Park Parking area. We have not heard a reply – Perhaps they are busy. Consequently we asked the State of Florida Honorable Pam Bondi, Florida’s Attorney General and she directed us to seek council or to ask local Authorities. We again asked the city to give us back these ‘Inducements to Purshase’ for us that we not only paid for but are within the Federal Trade Commissions’ Federal ‘Consent Agreement’ ordering REDRESS for us.
    Since we have not heard back we contacted our Honorable First Lady, Michelle Obama , and asked her to please ask the city to give us back what was Redress and also a Feature we paid for. We asked the United States Honorable First Lady this because of her ‘Lets Move’ exercise program.
    It is very sad, we Palm Coast Pioneers Family , the first fourth Generation Great Grandchildren of Palm Coast, Inc. now this Century have only the street.

    We can only hope that our ‘Palm Coast Community Park’ helps the young lads and lasses like it did all last Century.

  4. JR says:

    Right, the city should charge more so it can operate a grant fund. Sounds a bit nonsensical.

  5. Charles Ericksen, Jr says:

    I sat through the full City Council Workshop, when this subject was discussed and there were very few , if any challenges by any City Council members on the proposed changes. Mr. Meeker did ask a few questions, but he never aggressively challenged the additional fees proposed. Infact he agreed with most. One has to ask, just why did the City Council agree to build and maintain sports fields, for ITS RESIDENTS and YOUTH, if they were going to price them in a manner, that would create hardship on youth sports? It’s interesting, that our Tennis Courts, continue to lose , over $100,000/year since built, but there has never been any attempts to price the total operational costs all back to the users. The Council just takes the $100,000 from other categories, and continues. So bottomline, this is like our taxpayers paying for the sports field, but if you want to USE them, they will cost you…The City just accepted, over $150,000 from TDC, to expand the playing fields in PC,, so is it their intent to now make this a for profit business? Let’s get in touch with residents, …Maybe get out and see what goes on , at HS sporting events, and others, where there are no cameras present….This is cantagious, as we do the same to other non-profits, when we force them to have all events in Town Center and charge big bucks to go there. Talk with the Hispanic American Group, and see what the City did to them, with emergency medical care on site for their event.. Not nice, but consistant with no idea of what really goes on in the City…

  6. palmcoaster says:

    100,000/year maintenance cost to benefit our children and keep them entertained and out of trouble, it sure pays itself many times over. Now I want to know how much city spends with developers advertisement forced paid by us all, every time we see the city logo on their media as many times a year we see it like in the Parades of Homes benefiting the local developers thru the Home Builders Association and for other venues?. Do you all know we pay for that insertion? How much does the city waste in that full color newsletter for production, graphics design by a supplier operating from a home base and outsource? We could just do with a plain black and white informative copied pamphlet instead in our water bills, other than these luxuries in our depleted economy. Also those rocket scientist consultants for nothing, often utilized at a ransom rate per hour. These should be done away to save other than imposing fees in these sport fields, that after all were supposed to be supplied at not charge for the kids since ITT filing with FTC as those sport amenities were grand father in.
    I would advise our councilmen to monitor better (they even call it micro manage sometimes) those expenditures of our city in developer geared benefit advertisement as well as tax payers funds going to the Chamber of Commerce for so called city advertisement…just show the results if any.
    Also hurts my eyes to see a west and east side walkway/bike path on both sides of Belle Terre from at least PC Pkwy to Town Center while in other heavy traffic (Seminole Pkwy) have none. I pledge my taxes to be used and serve our residents specially our kids first and not these developers first, instead..

  7. Kendall says:

    Kind of like the tennis center our tax dollars built but is not available to us unless we join.

  8. Cheryl says:

    I just read the original Article in the News Journal as well as the article on a few points have not yet been touched on. First being funding, for parks and recreation. Does this not already come out of the citizens pockets to begin with? Whether or not it has come from property taxes or vehicle registration, it has already come out of our pockets once. I find it absolutley appalling to have a second hand out for more money from the people that have already paid their dues. I have not 1, not 2 , but 3 kids currently involved in Phantom Flag Football, I am proud to say I as well as my spouse both made a conscious decision to engage our children in and activity that takes a 6 day a week commitment. What would you rather us do, let them run loose in neighborhoods that have empty house after empty house allowing them free reign to cause all shorts of mischief? So, stop trying to double dip! Secondly, did I really just see ornamentals added to a portion of Belle Terre or did my eyes deceive me? I did, how dare anyone ask for money to be paid by the hour to run lights for our safety while at any one of these parks when we are witnessing our money get used to put in SAWGRASS, Serriously? In closing, the lights are there for a multitude of purposes, specific to the fact that we are training our future proffesional NFL, MLB, NBA stars, at very least parks and recreation and the City Council should seriously think it through, bad publicity for this community or good, $10.00 per hour for lights or a community strong in numbers because we didn’t push even more out due to tight economical worries. Get creative ladies and gentlemen, by pass your next bonus, and put it back in the budget. I surely haven’t received any raises or bonuses in the last 3 years, but every increase or extra fee possible has been passed my way. How much do you think $12.75 per hour can really cover? Hmmmm…Mull that over would ya?

  9. SSDD says:

    Here’s a thought… Get sponsors. It was on the news a few weeks ago about high schools in central Florida getting companies to pay for naming rights on football stadiums like big venues, Bright House Stadium at UCF or the Amway Arena. They said it would bring in $60,000 – $100,000 annually to the schools athletics programs. They are also doing it with multi-year contracts, 4 years I believe. Maybe the city should look at some of the local business’ for the same since they offer them so many different types of kick backs, tax breaks and so on. Just an idea to help offset some of the costs.

  10. palmcoaster says:

    SSDD wrong idea you forget that many businesses are shutting their doors or just barely making it and like the Flagler Hospital (20-20 Society) soliciting by creating fund raisings of their own. Looks like you do not own a business in this county to me.
    I agree with Cheryl here, enough is enough and this city needs to provide the services we pay for already to our youth, other than wasting our hard earned tax dollars in publishing media for the benefit of the elite or in flashy and costly newsletters advertising our 5% elected one’s faces in glossy full color when a one sheet black and white will just inform all, as I point above. Get rid of the real waste so these kids parents and teams will not be further overburden with additional fees in this pathetic economy.
    Yesterday I had a teen knocking my door raising money for her softball team “uniform” , meanwhile we are grinding 350 million a day in these wars? Something is wrong with this picture. We should be fed up already.

  11. elaygee says:

    Give me Give me but No More taxes?
    Magical thinking.
    Don’t want to pay for it? let it revert back to forest and brush.

  12. SSDD says:

    You are correct… I never did say I owned a business nor do I. I’m just a 20+ year resident with an opinion. I do agree with you and Cheryl on that the city spends an outrageous amount of money on things that could be used elsewhere. Please don’t get the wrong idea on what I was trying to say. There are some big business’ in the county that could contribute is all I was saying and showing other examples.

  13. palmcoaster says:

    Thank you SSDD for your clarification and I sure respect your opinion…I just wanted you to be aware that the small businesses and some of the big ones as well are not doing so bright currently. Also I find out that sometimes when newcomers arrive in our area they are not aware of all the facts taking place. Information sometimes is vital.
    Contrary to what elaygee says, we the tax payers are not asking to; “give me give me”, for what we didn’t contribute already. We sure pay dearly for these services up front and in advance and the local government waste our contributions in frivolous causes like 2 million on two years of meeting presentations for a Water Coquina Desalination Plant that we don’t need and they postpone now. 6.5 million infrastructure in Old Kings Road for a Walmart Center that never showed up. 5 million on the Town Center CRA to benefit the developer as well as a second set of Belle Terre sidewalks who knows at what cost, maybe 2 million plus buying the lots to benefit Town Center for a failed one more 4 lane entrance. So now we are expected to be pandering $100,000/year for our kids to use these public sport courts, after they waste in the above?
    When enough is going to be enough? So elaygee what is your thought in the miss use of our millions above? Don’t you think we paid enough already for our children free use of our properly maintained public courts? Do you have kids elaygee? or maybe you live in a gated community were sports courts are included for all? My kids are over forty but sure I remember when they were just kids with the same needs and rights that we are advocating here now and with sport activities that keep them out of trouble and guided them to be the good citizens they are today. Can you guess for a moment, that the parents of this kids due to the current financial pathetic situation in our country, may not be able to afford these fees?

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