Monte talks parks user fee changes

Monte talks parks user fee changes

The Montesano City Council and Mayor dove into two discussions last week regarding public parks and athletics organizations.

Currently, the city offers agreements with sports organizations (like club soccer and softball) to allow for “exclusive use” of a public park. In essence, the agreements allow for the organizations to set up schedules without having to worry about conflicting with other sports or events on the field.

The agreements collect a fee from those user groups. The fee can range from a few hundred dollars to thousands depending on how many parks the organization needs to use and how much damage the city expects those sports will do to the parks. The city uses the fees to pay for park maintenance.

The recent agreements were brought forward by Mayor Vini Samuel. Samuel had said the agreements would help user groups avoid conflict moving forward. Throughout 2016 the city council authorized the Mayor to sign agreements with several sports organizations.

Former Councilwoman Nikki King had voted against an agreement early on saying she didn’t believe any groups should have exclusive use over a public park. She was the only dissenting vote. King resigned from the council late last year.

Councilman Robert Hatley was appointed to fill King’s position, and like his predecessor, he’s now asking the city to rethink its user agreements.

Hatley’s issue is not public access, per se.

Though organizations may pay a fee to the city for park maintenance, many organizations have said they invest both money and labor into park improvements throughout their respective seasons. Some organizations claim their contributions total in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Hatley, during the Jan. 23 city council meeting, proposed the city allow user groups an opportunity to track those investments so the city can refund them for the money and labor up to the amount of their user fee. That means if a team or an organization pays $500 as a user fee to the city, and then tracks $10,000 in labor and supplies for maintenance throughout the season, that team or organization then could receive a $500 refund for its user fee.

“We should reward them for the investment that they’re making,” Hatley said. “They are investing a ton in the parks, and I think we should invest in sports. This is an area I think is worth investing in.”

Montesano Little League is one of the organizations that puts thousands of dollars in money and labor into the city’s parks. But Mayor Samuel said past negotiations for a user agreement with Montesano Little League had been unproductive. According to Samuel, she ended conversation with Montesano Little League because the organization wants to ability to lock the field from all public access for the whole year.

“My preference is not to sign a use agreement with them because really it’s not worth it to lock up a field for 12 months,” Samuel said. “If the council wants to do that, maybe the council needs to think about selling the field to Little League. We don’t get taxes on it, and we don’t get anything on it.”

In a telephone interview, Montesano Little League president Steve Bove said that was an inaccurate assessment of the organization’s aims.

“We’re willing to open it up if the weather is good and it won’t damage the field. The problem is people want to use it after we had 6 inches of rain, and what good does that do us?” Bove said. “We pay for all the upgrades to the surfaces. We do a lot of work. It takes hundreds of man hours. Just a little bit of maintenance here and just a little bit there makes it unsafe. And I don’t think people understand that.”

The conversation during the Jan. 23 meeting was pulled in two directions following Samuel’s comments. While Hatley’s issue was simply a matter of refunding user groups for their investments into public parks, Samuel’s issue was a matter of maintaining public access. Councilman Dan Wood tried to steer the conversation back to the matter at hand.

“You’re discussing time and access, but this is a policy proposal as to credit for the rental fee,” Wood said.

Samuel then addressed the issue of fees. While user fees for private nonprofit organizations only amount to some $20,000 of the parks budget, Samuel noted that the school district pays a much larger sum because of its use of city parks for school events. Wood suggested that the city could create language that would exempt the school district from the refund because the school district has a tax base to pull from.

Bove said he is agreeable to Hatley’s plan to reimburse user groups for the agreement fees based on how much money and labor they put into the park.

“Every user group is going to reach that. Everybody will. We’ve already put $2,000 in just by ordering our two pallets of conditioner,” Bove said. But he remains overall opposed to the fees. “I don’t believe any user group, no matter who they are, should be paying money for the parks… I think it’s ridiculous for any user group to pay $1,500 or $2,000 dollars. If we would have done that, we would have been $500 in the hole. We would have to raise the fees, and we already have families who can’t afford the fees.”

The council took no action regarding user agreements or fees.