Members of the Parks & Recreation Commission at their most recent meeting voted unanimously to approve a new slate of fees for groups using town-owned playing fields.
The fees are to go to a dedicated fund held by the New Canaan Athletic Foundation for the maintenance and upgrade of fields and facilities at locations including New Canaan High School, as per a formal agreement between the nonprofit organization and the town, according to Commissioner Sally Campbell.
Youth sports teams in New Canaan already are being assessed a “fields usage fee” on a per player, per season basis, Campbell said during Parks & Rec’s Nov. 13 meeting, held in Lapham Community Center.
“There were a couple of groups that do use the athletic fields that kind of do not fall under that umbrella, so we met to see if we could bring them under the umbrella because they do use the athletic fields and they do use the dirt fields, and we came to the decision that these groups probably should be charged a fee,” Campbell said.
Asked which groups she referred to, Campbell said that men’s softball, flag football and very young soccer players were to be paying a fee “and then it kind of fell through the cracks, so we want to formalize that.”
A fee also will be assessed to runners using Waveny trails in the fall.
Following the Commission’s 8-0 vote, groups that now will pay a $25 per player fee include adult rec softball, men’s soccer, men’s lacrosse and Canons baseball; a $20 fee will be assessed to rec flag football players; and a $10 fee will be assed to rec soccer, rec field hockey, young New Canaan Football Club players and participants in a fall track program that uses Waveny.
Those voting included Chair Rona Siegel, Campbell, Secretary Francesca Segalas and Commissioners Carl Mason, Doug Richardson, Matt Konspore, Laura Costigan and Hank Green. Commissioners Gene Goodman, Jack Hawkins and Steve Haberstroh were absent.
The recommended fees will go to the Board of Selectmen for a vote, Campbell said.
Campbell said in a memo distributed to commissioners that the proposed fees were discussed at an Oct. 29 meeting attended by herself, Richardson, Recreation Director Steve Benko and NCAF Board of Directors Chairman Mike Benevento and Treasurer Andy Gordon. The “Fields Meeting” had not been publicly noticed. (Campbell, who has been cited for holding non-public meetings in the past, as well as apparent conflicts of interest, ceased serving as Parks & Rec chair in March and said she’d serve on the appointed body through year’s end.)
Asked by Segalas about the feel for running at Waveny, Campbell said a youth program serving fifth- through eight-graders called “New Canaan Blazers” “has a lot of participation” and that the group uses the NCHS track and in the fall trains on the park’s trails.
Costigan asked how the town is weighing maintenance of track use versus the Waveny trails, and how the different tiers of fees were identified.
Benko said that some programs “are charging a substantial fee for the kids.” For example, he said, kids are playing $40 to play in the town’s rec soccer programs in the spring and fall and “if I have to add $25 to the fee, that will turn kids off sport.”
“We don’t make money, it’s all parent volunteers,” he said. “These organizations now, with exception of football, are going mostly to paid coaches so they are charging kids a substantial amount of money $300 or $400 a season. The track program was about $300 last spring for kids.”
The fees will be built into registration costs for the various sports programs, Campbell said. In all, the fees are expected to bring in about $54,000, Benko said.
If approved by the selectmen, the youth sports and some other programs would start to pay the fees in the spring, while the Recreation Department programs would start charring in the fall, Benko said.