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Parents oppose youth sports fee to use city fields

By Staff | Aug 4, 2009

George Schwartz is looking at paying an extra $480 for his three children to play baseball if the Cape Coral City Council decides to implement a user fee that would require residents to pay additional money to use the city’s sports fields.
Schwartz, a baseball coach, said during Monday’s regular council meeting that sports is more than just athletics to his children and the children he coaches.
“We believe it’s unfair,” he said. “They (the city) are going to lose a lot of kids who cannot afford to pay that … they are going to put a lot of kids on the street, and a lot of kids are going to be getting into trouble. We’re trying to save kids.”
Proposed user fees are only one of many potential changes or cuts to the city’s Parks and Recreation Department that are on the budgetary chopping block.
If the fees are approved, Cape residents would pay an additional $40 per child, while non-residents would pay an additional $80 for their children to use the fields while participating in organized activities.
For their part, city council as a whole did not outright denounce or support the idea of the user fee.
Councilmember Dolores Bertolini said she would not be supporting the user fee in any way.
She said there “has to be another way,” and that without the park system the city would be “dead, absolutely dead.”
Mayor Jim Burch, who said his children have been involved in youth sports, felt the question came down to one thing: quality of life.
“It really comes down to a quality of life,” he said. “What do we want, and what do we want to pay for?”
Beyond the impact the fee might have on residents, the question is how changes to the Parks and Recreation Department might affect Lee County sponsored events that utilize the city’s sports fields.
Jeff Mielke, director of the Lee County Sports Authority, said 24 percent of all sports business in Lee is directly tied to Cape sports fields.
According to Mielke, 3,800 visitors used the city’s fields for the senior softball tournament in 2008, that pumped $12 million into the local economy.
He added that the Lee County Sports Authority supports the Cape’s parks and recreation budget.
“Large events require large facility needs, and Cape Coral has more than anywhere else,” Mielke said.
“We can’t host these events without the partnership between the city and the county. It would put us all in an awkward position (if parks or fields closed),” he said.
Schwartz and other parents and coaches like him have to wait until September to see what the city council decides.
Until then, he is left feeling like he has already paid for the use of the city’s fields and should not be required to pay more.
Schwartz was not alone Monday. He was one of many residents who shared their sentiments with the city council during the meeting.
“Don’t get me wrong, everybody has it rough, but this is just poor judgement on their part,” Schwartz said.