Saturday, February 8, 2003
Steamboat Springs I have to take issue with your opinion regarding the implementation of user fees for Little League baseball and Steamboat Youth Soccer. It was not, as you described, a financially prudent decision and puts us one step closer to becoming another Vail or Aspen, neither of which now has a youth soccer or youth baseball organization to speak of.
Visitors to our community often say the reason they come to Steamboat is that it is "more of a real town." Real towns support their youth in any way they possibly can. They realize investing in youth is a wise investment. Keep one child from entering the court systems and fiscally you've got your money back. The $15,000 in projected user fees is a drop in Parks and Rec's $4 million budget, about one-third of 1 percent. I find it hard to apply the term "prudence" when talking about one-third of 1 percent of a department's budget.
This was a strong political statement by those on our City Council. By enacting this user fee, the city abrogated any financial responsibility for supporting two nonprofit organizations whose purpose is to provide summer recreational opportunities for youth at an exceptionally reasonable cost.
Youth sports give back to the community substantially more than they cost. The individual character, personal courage and team loyalty developed through team sports makes for far more productive citizens. Apparently both the Pilot & Today and the city see no fiscal value in these programs, which involve some 600 of Steamboat's youth and are administered completely by volunteers.
To put this in perspective, the city is funding some other nonprofits as follows: Strings in the Mountains, $36,000; Historic Routt County, $20,000; Arts Council, $40,000 plus $10,000 for the Depot it occupies; Tread of Pioneers, $35,000; and the Chamber Orchestra, $4,000. We also completely fund free buses for a few at some $2 million a year. These programs are important, but my feeling is our community is better served, dollar for dollar, by subsidizing youth soccer and baseball $15,000 in incremental field prep costs.
Yes, the city strongly supports hockey and skiing in its various forms. The city's work with these programs is the envy of many towns. However, for various reasons including the substantial financial commitments required, many children do not participate in these sports. Relatively inexpensive field sports are accepted avenues for all youth to develop their team skills.
Last October, I called to find out how other communities dealt with this issue. I wished to provide the facts. My research indicated that almost no communities charge field user fees for the standard youth field sports such as football, soccer and baseball or the traditional field house sports of basketball or volleyball. Craig does not. Grand Lake does not. Eagle Valley does not and nor do Hayden or Leadville or Granby. Poway, Calif., does not, nor does Jackson, Wyo.
Clearly other communities feel a sense of responsibility for subsidizing traditional youth field sports and I urge the Pilot & Today to perform its own research. I wish you had before you wrote your opinion because it was long on pontificating and short on facts. You'll find that neither Emerald Park nor the Heritage soccer fields could have been built without substantial financial and professional support from individuals and businesses.
There are zero funds allocated in either the current budget or planned capital improvements through 2007 for either more ballfields or additional field house facilities. The old junior high gym has been rented to a "for profit," displacing youth basketball. There is nothing in the West of Steamboat Plan regarding youth field sports. But there are substantial funds for refurbishing old ranches and train depots, and making Howelsen more appealing to Triple Crown.
My position in October was that user fees for traditional youth field sports was philosophically wrong from the standpoint of community responsibility to develop our youth. If absolutely necessary, then the fees should be at a subsidized rate. I also stated that in the short term I would do what was necessary to make it work. My position has not changed.
However, I now believe the City Council and the Pilot have taken the wrong path. The discussion has turned from that of a short-term budget-balancing act to one of permanence. All the signs point to a City Council that assigns youth developmental sports a priority somewhere well below the arts, historic preservation, free buses, a transportation center few use, Strings in the Mountains, miles of concrete bike paths and ballfields for visitors and adult softball leagues. Sounds a lot like Vail, Beaver Creek and Aspen to me.
I believe the Pilot & Today and the City Council should re-evaluate their positions.