Town Committee to NC Lax Association: Mandatory ‘Fields Usage Fee’ Is Separate from Your Generous Contribution To Dunning

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Though generous, New Canaan Lacrosse Association’s contribution to the re-turfing of Dunning Field cannot stand in or otherwise alter a mandatory fee that all youth sports organizations pay the town for the maintenance of athletic fields, officials said Monday.

The volunteer committee that oversees youth sports in New Canaan at its regular meeting decided to defer to the Board of Selectmen on a request from the NCLA to waive a mandatory $20 per-player, per-season fee for fields maintenance.

Lacking a quorum, the Youth Sports Committee stopped short of a formal vote on the matter at its regular meeting.

Yet committee members said they’re unconvinced by the NCLA’s reasoning that a $100,000 contribution to the Dunning that drained its resources means the organization may forego paying the “fields usage fee” until its funds are replenished.

“They are separate issues,” committee member Sally Campbell said at the meeting, held in Lapham Community Center. “They decided to make a contribution.”

The Youth Sports Committee spent years finalizing plans to impose the fee, which was backed unanimously by the selectmen in October 2015.

Yet according to a Dec. 8 letter from the NCLA, the organization after contributing $100,000 toward a new turf field at Dunning Stadium last summer found its resources “drained.”

“While many of us on the board do not object, in principal, to contributing to ongoing field maintenance (as opposed to those funds coming from the general tax base), it is our intent to rebuild our normal reserves, to allow us to continue to make a meaningful impact on our town’s athletic facilities, fund unforeseen needs of our program and to provide scholarship dollars, as we see fit,” said the letter, from the organization’s president, Kimberly Connors. “As such, we would like to forego making further field contributions, until we feel comfortable that we have sufficient resources to continue to contribute as we have in the past.”

The hugely popular youth lacrosse program now counts more than 900 kids, according to information supplied by NCLA and included in the committee’s meeting minutes from Jan. 23. All coaches are paid, the organization’s registrar is paid and expenses also include shared snow plow costs at Dunning and scholarships, according to the NCLA.

Even so, committee members said, the town builds revenues from the $20 fee into the parks superintendent’s budget for maintaining athletic fields.

“There are budget assumptions made based on the $20 fee that really happened before this [request] took place so based on the fact that the town made an assumption, these funds are available to [the parks superintendent] on a yearly basis to do maintenance work on the fields,” said New Canaan High School Athletic Director Jay Egan, an ex-officio member of the committee. “What you are talking about is money that the town is not going to be able to recoup.”

In addition to Campbell and Egan, those present at the meeting included committee Chairman Chris Robustelli and members Tracey Karl and Garland Allen, as well as Parks Superintendent John Howe and Recreation Director Steve Benko, both ex-officio members. Committee members Tara Clough, Mary Stanton and Ted Shaker were absent.

Committee members said they also would tell the NCLA that as a selectmen-appointed body, they’re not authorized to waive the fee themselves.

Allen asked whether it would be appropriate in making its recommendation to the selectmen that the committee urge them not to waive the fee.

Instead, he suggested, the committee may say “that they can come up with a compromise and work out something but not actually waive the fee because the walls will come tumbling down.”

Egan said that the committee should simply say that it sees no relationship between the donation to Dunning and the fields usage fee.

“We don’t understand how one has a relation to the other—we understand this is a concern of yours but the $20 fee takes into consideration the development of the maintenance budget and the $100,000 was gift a gift of the New Canaan Lacrosse Association for the renovation of Dunning Field, and we do not see the relationship between the two.”

Howe said that the fields usage fee was meant to have been included for every lacrosse player who signed up for this year.

Allen asked whether NCLA paid the fields usage fee in the past (yes), whether the organization notified the town ahead of time that they wanted to forego paying it for now (no, after-the-fact) and what would happen if the selectmen decided to waive it (that’s the selectmen’s problem because it’s their budget).

New Canaan long has counted on public-private partnerships to fund capital projects at its playing fields.

Though the individual bonding still must be voted up or down, the Town Council last week unanimously approved funding for the track replacement project at New Canaan High School, along with the “Water Tower Turf One” and “Water Tower Turf Two” projects and the Mead Park baseball fields project. Local families and youth sports organizations including the New Canaan Athletic Foundation raised more than $2.3 million in private donations that will be used to offset the cost of three of the five projects.

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