City councillors opposed to new fees for youth sports leagues say they have the votes they need to reverse the controversial charges at least for the coming season.
The new fees, passed in January as part of the city’s 2012 budget, put an end to the practice of giving children and youth sports clubs free access to city playing fields. The charges were included, but went unnoticed, in a hefty review of city user fees and passed council without debate.
Close to 200 coaches, parents and children came to city hall earlier this week to ask city councillors for a one-year reprieve on the unexpected bills, received long after most leagues set players’ fees for the season and booked field time.
Councillor Janet Davis, who chaired the special meeting, said a motion to rethink the policy will be introduced at Tuesday’s council meeting and she is confident it will get the required support. Ms. Davis said the city can find the $1.5-million in revenue it stands to lose by reversing the fees, predicting the year-end surplus will be higher than expected. “There’s lots left that we can draw on to solve this problem,” she said.
Agreement from two-thirds of councillors is needed to adjust the budget, but Ms. Davis said she and others are working out the details on how the fee question will be introduced at council. “What the sports groups want and need is absolutely clear and that is waiving of the fees for 2012 and consultation for 2013 if there are going to be further fees,” she said. “It’s simple.”
But Mayor Rob Ford has yet to decide what action – if any – he favours. Asked Wednesday if he would support waiving this year’s fees, he said he needs to consult further with Jim Hart, the city’s general manager of Parks, Forestry and Recreation.
“I have to sit down with Jim Hart. I met with him on Monday. I’m going to sit down with him again tomorrow to come up with some solution for these fees,” he hold reporters. “There is going to be, obviously, financial impacts on that.”
A staff report for council recommends more flexible payment options to give teams time to collect the extra money from players or hold fundraising events. If, at the end of the season, sports groups can show they have made “reasonable efforts” to collect the extra money, it recommends they be allowed to request relief from the parks general manager.
The new fees range from $6 to $12 an hour depending on the field, a charge that city staff estimate as roughly $1 per player per game for house-league baseball and between $5 and $15 for each soccer player for the season.
The new fees are designed to help recover some of the city’s costs, according to a February staff briefing note, and are expected to reduce “block booking” by clubs which in the past have tied up fields at no cost. Staff estimates some groups will return more than half of their hours. The fees bring Toronto in line with other municipalities, the note says, adding that before amalgamation children’s leagues were charged fees in East York, Etobicoke and York.
Organizers contacted by The Globe and Mail estimate fees will rise between $15 to $100 for house-league players to more than $100 for members of competitive travel teams. They defended their booking practices, saying they reserve extra time to cover weather cancellations.
Denzil Minnan-Wong, a member of the mayor’s executive committee, said he is willing to listen to proposals for this year, but also feels future fees may be in order. “I don’t think it’s unreasonable to look at some sort of fee structure in the context of what is done elsewhere and what are the costs associated with administering and maintaining sports fields,” he said.