Nassau County Executive Laura Curran threw local sports organizations a doozy of a curve ball just weeks before Little League baseball and softball seasons begin, announcing on March 14 that the county would not waive park fees for community sports organizations. Collection of those fees is expected to generate more than $1 million in county revenue.
Alan Krull, who helps run the Hewlett-Woodmere Little League, which plays at the county’s Grant Park in Hewlett, said that Curran’s announcement was a “shock to us,” adding that he believed that organizations like his should have been informed about the decision.
“It’s going to cost our nonprofit baseball league approximately $15,000,” Krull said. “We will unfortunately have to pay that amount, and will have no choice but to raise our registration fees. We’ve done everything in our power to keep rates the same for the last 15 years.” The league supports at least 18 teams at three different levels — Intermediate, Minors and U Grapefruit — and has playoff games and a World Series. Opening Day is April 15.
While Grant Park received a $2.7 million face-lift in 2012 that included artificial-turf fields, North Woodmere Park, another county facility the league uses, has withered, Krull said. “I’m not sure where the money is going to go to,” he said.
“It clearly isn’t going to maintain North Woodmere Park. The fields [1 and 2] at that park are in desperate need of renovation. There will be some baseball leagues out there that may not be able to afford this imposed tariff, and I hope they aren’t forced to shut down, as that would be the worst possible scenario.”
County officials acknowledged that it took them a couple of months to understand “where they were bleeding money,” according to spokesman Michael Martino, and “we rolled it out awkwardly.” Brian Schneider, the deputy county executive for parks and public works, said that the fees have long been in place, and that in addition to generating revenue, another problem was certain leagues tied up the use of the fields.
“The existing fees were approved by the Legislature and waived by the previous administration,” said Schneider, who pointed to a few organizations that had what he called a “blanket agreement” that locked out other nonprofit groups from using county fields.
He noted that a plan to rehire one person for every two employees who left for compensatory packages at the end of last year was quashed by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority. Schneider also said that the fees could possibly pay for upgrades, including synthetic-grass fields at county facilities such as North Woodmere Park.
County Legislator Howard Kopel (R-Lawrence) said that although he likes Curran, he doesn’t always agree with her, and this is one of those issues on which he doesn’t. “I’ve said publicly more fees are not the way to go,” he said. “There are fair charges in some cases to recover the cost of providing services, but not to balance budgets. Fees are not for revenue raising. Her priority is misplaced.”
Hempstead Town Councilman Anthony D’Esposito, whose 4th District includes Hewlett and Woodmere, said that the town does not charge nonprofit sports organizations for using its fields, and he is considering legislation that would codify that practice.
“I have asked our commissioner of parks” — Daniel Lino — “to step up and help our local Little League teams,” D’Esposito stated in a March 17 media release, “and he has responded by saying he will do everything possible to accommodate displaced not-for-profit teams based in our town.”
Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney also was not enamored of Curran’s plan. “Nassau County’s decision to unilaterally impose over a million dollars in fees on Little Leagues without warning is outrageous,” she stated in a March 15 release. “I urge the county executive to abandon this absurd plan and send a clear message that we are not going to hold the well-being of our kids hostage to the broken tax-and-spend politics of Nassau County government.”
Kopel, D’Esposito and Sweeney are Republicans. Curran is a Democrat.
The county executive is expected to have a revised county budget finalized on March 22. Her plan to cancel the waiver of fees could be on the County Legislature’s March 26 calendar. Should the Legislature vote down her plan, she could veto the rejection, and the legislators could try to override the veto with the required 13-member, two-thirds majority. There are 19 legislators.
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