$40 – $80 ‘athletic fee’ tendered for youth sports
“Pay to play” could soon become a policy of Cape Coral’s city government, but with a meaning that has nothing to do with political corruption.
An athletic user fee of $40 for residents and $80 for nonresidents is included as part of the city’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2010.
Organizers of youth sports in Cape Coral are upset at the prospect of an additional fee to participate in athletics on city fields and parks.
“You’re punishing children for a city that’s got issues,” said Lori Freed, a Cape Coral National Little League parent.
Youth sports — which charge their own fees for uniforms and other league costs — are not immune to the current economic woes, and have struggles of their own in a city plagued by a 13 percent unemployment rate and record foreclosures.
“You don’t know how many parents we called last year and said they couldn’t afford it,” said Freed, who also helps organize the Cape National Little League.
“We don’t even know if we’ll have sponsors next year,” she added.
The fee, if implemented, would be part of the City Council’s response to the precipitous drop in property values in the past two years. Cape Coral’s total taxable assessed value has dropped nearly 50 percent in two years, falling from $21 billion in fiscal year 2008 to $10.5 billion.
There is not currently a plan in place to collect the funds if the fee is implemented, but it is expected to generate an estimated $321,400 in revenue, according to city spokesperson Connie Barron.
That amount is part of the Parks and Recreation Department’s $7.2 million budget, and would go towards the maintenance of the city’s parks.
Despite the proposed fee, the Parks and Recreation Department is facing cuts in services.
Under the current budget proposal, the department is expected to lose 18 full-time positions, eliminate all city-sponsored special events, close the Yacht Club pool from October through February, and close the Lake Kennedy Senior Center on city holidays.
Steve Pohlman, director of the Parks and Recreation, has declined media interviews until he presents the department’s budget to the Financial Advisory Committee next week.
Mayor Jim Burch, who was involved in youth sports leagues in Cape Coral as a coach for about seven years when his children were active in baseball and softball, said the new fee is not a certainty for the budget.
“It’s all part of the discussion. At this point nothing is carved in stone,” Burch said.
The budget is not currently on the council’s workshop agenda Monday, but could be brought up for discussion.
Council members will set a tentative millage rate Aug. 3, but Burch indicated he may call a special budget workshop meeting beforehand to discuss the entire budget.
The proposed millage rate is 7.776, or $7.78 for every $1,000 in taxable value. The current millage rate is 4.768. Once the tentative millage rate is set, the council cannot set a higher rate but may lower it as part of the final budget resolution.
Two public budget workshops will be held in September, and the council will vote on the final budget Sept. 23.
Meanwhile, youth sports organizers are left to wonder how the proposed fees will impact their leagues.
“Youth sports is an attraction to a small city like ours. Youth sports is definitely not a place that we should be pinching,” Freed said.