After listening to the concerns of a group of coaches, volunteers, parents and even a player of the Marshall youth baseball and softball leagues, the Marshall City Commission decided to table its action on a proposed increase in fees for ball field use and concession services at Airport Park.
“I want to express my concern that there is a possibility that the team rates might be raised for MYBA and MYSA and that there will be more money taken from concessions, to please obligations to the city,” said Joe Martino, a retired educator, coach and supporter of the Marshall Youth Baseball and Softball Associations.
“A raise in team participation fees will go back and be placed onto parents to pay the registration fees; and some families that have two, three to four kiddos along with the fees, have to buy pants, shoes, gloves, bats, helmets and other things,” Martino said. “I just ask that you please don’t put a tax on the kids and let’s not discriminate against our kids.
“Let’s let them keep playing for the price,” he urged.
Martino was the first of about a dozen citizens who spoke out during the public comment portion of the Jan. 9 meeting in protest of the proposed increase in fees.
For the ball field use agreement, the city proposed to increase user fees paid to the city, on a per sport, and per season basis from $60 to $90 per team participating in league play.
For the concession agreement, the city proposed to change rental fees from $500 to 10% of gross revenue for a specified period. City Manager Mark Rohr said this is the same rate the city currently charges at Memorial City Hall for concessions.
He noted that the review of contracts and revenue for Airport Park currently reflect that the city has neglected to fully utilize the full financial potential of the park.
Representative with MYSA and MYBA said their concern was that an increase in fees for the league will cause the registration cost for each player to go up.
MYSA currently charges a minimal $75 per player for early registration and $85 after early registration.
MYBA registration fees are: $80 for ages 3-4 tee-ball, $125 for ages 5-6 tee-ball, $125 for ages 7 and 8 for coach pitch, $125 for ages 9 and 10; and $130 for ages 11-12, ages 13-14 and ages 15-19.
“Sometimes, some of these youth’s parents cannot afford an increase in fees. And that’s just going to hurt and discriminate against some youth that really have good talents that can be up there, playing ball and really go somewhere, make something of themselves and become productive,” said Sherri Griffis, whose grandchildren now play in the league.
Griffis said as longtime district clerk for Harrison County, she understands that sometimes increased fees are good for the operations of the city.
ROOT OF ISSUE
Rohr explained that the need to discuss and examine agreements was prompted by complaints from numerous citizens, who were troubled about the operations of one of the associations.
“The issue came to our attention because of complaints directed to Mayor Brown on the part of several citizens on the way one of the association’s is being run and the fear that there’s revenue winding up in the hands of individuals other than the city,” the city manager said. “Following our meeting with those citizens we started to look into the matter to fully understand what the situation entailed, and as a result of that investigation it invited us to examine the agreements that are supposed to control the use of the facilities.”
The investigation revealed that the city hadn’t had a concession agreement with the Marshall Youth Sports Board since 1999.
The last signed ball field use agreement on file was from April 2012. Rohr said although no agreement has been in place in the last seven years, the city’s financial records do reflect minimal revenue from ball field usage, receiving $570 in 2017; $2,020 in 2018; and $1,380 in 2019. Rohr said the revenue is solely from the team fee.
Financial records for the last three years reflect no revenue generated for the city from concession services at the park, he noted.
“Simple math would indicate that at the $60 rate from the past agreements that there are (about) 23 teams that played out there in 2019,” Rohr noted. “A simple increase for inflation, at 3 percent a year, since that last time that we think that that rate was put into effect (in 2012), would give us a number of $102 per team, and we thought picking $90 for the commission’s consideration would be more palatable,” the city manager said.
Rohr pointed out that the overall parks and recreation budget for 2020 – not just for ball fields — is approximately $531,000.
“There was an additional concern voiced by the citizens group that we met with that the city was not deriving any direct benefits from the weekend tournaments out there,” Rohr indicated. “They also felt that there would be increase participation by the youth if the association operations were opened up, which is what is intended to happen by virtue of the agreements.”
Scott Beck, a Marshall ISD police officer and president of the softball association, said he knows there’s a lot of negative things that may have been said about the Marshall Youth Softball program in the past, but since taking it on six months, they’ve made sure to do things by the book.
As far as the new contract, Beck said he doesn’t have a problem with the contract. He just doesn’t agree with the way the issue derived.
“We haven’t had a chance to sit down and talk and discuss our side,” said Beck. “I think once we sit down and discuss this, we can work out a contract that can keep us in business, and at the same time provide what the city can use towards what they need.” Beck asked the commission for a chance to do that.
Kendrick Biggs, current president of the baseball association and head baseball coach at Wiley College, echoed his sentiments.
Biggs, a board member of the Marshall Youth Sports Board for 21 years, said, “I know over times, things can always be said to the city, to commissioners about different things that go on, as with any organization, especially when you have (up to) 500 kids you’re dealing with, and that many more adults. The one thing we can agree on is that we always tried to be fair in everything that we do.”
Biggs said, just like the softball association, the baseball association has no problem with a contract.
“Our thing over the years is we don’t get to see a lot of money out there, so we have to put a lot of money out there; and I don’t think that’s the one thing that’s really been said because a few years ago we spent over $28,000 redoing all five of our fields,” said Biggs.
He said they were able to accomplish that through selling cheese sticks and more over the years.
“But we’re a nonprofit,” he said. “Everything we do goes right back into the park.”
Mark Haines, who has coached in Marshall since 2011, asked to lower the fee and provide better facilities.
“I think it’s our duty, as citizens of Marshall and Harrison County, to do more for our children to include repaving the parking lot that has holes in it bigger than a foot deep (and) not making the parents do a thousand fundraisers to redo the fencing and the backstops on the fields,” said Haines.
Billy Holler, a father, coach and sponsor in the league, said the program is more than just winning or losing.
“They learn good sportsmanship; they learn how to team play, how to work as a group,” he said.
Crystal Earley, accompanied by her 10-year-old daughter, Addison, shared how the proposed increase also bothers her young daughter. Earley read a letter her daughter wrote, voicing her concern.
“Please come watch us girls play ball to show you how much we love the game,” she wrote.
Joe Childress, website master for MYBA, said he was there to speak as a coach and a concerned citizen. Childress said he doesn’t think it’s a balanced agreement, because the city has far less responsibilities compared to the association. Plus, the contract doesn’t mention how the money will be spent on facilities.
“In my opinion, this agreement is more the same — ‘We want your money but we’re not going to do anything for you out there,’” he said, receiving applause from the roomful of fellow opponents.
Ronnie Minatrea, tournament director for MYSA, said he believes the fields could be a great revenue source for the city of Marshall, but he does not think that the league should be the target.
“Our target is out of town families that come here and spend money in our community on the weekends,” said Minatrea.
The tournament director said he’s fighting an uphill battle with the conditions of facilities at Airport Park, however, because surrounding areas off a better product.
DELAYING DECISIONRohr said he placed the item on the agenda for consideration because he realized there still has to be a dialogue of negotiations, and wanted to get the commission’s feedback.
Commissioners agreed that policies and procedures need to be in place and expressed the need for transparency, on both sides. Commissioners asked if the representatives could meet with the city manager to discuss negotiations.
“We don’t want to just overlook our citizens’ concerns and I do know you have a city to run …,” said Calhoun, “but let’s compromise, maybe, and come to a conclusion that we all can live with.”
Rohr said he’ll meet with representatives and shoot for February for the commission’s consideration. Lewis made a motion to table the agenda item until then; Calhoun seconded it. The unanimous vote to delay the action was followed by an applause from the associations’ representatives.