LEONARDTOWN, Md. – It was a packed house during the St. Mary’s County Board of Commissioners’ public forum on October 17, 2023, as rumors of a potential increase in fees for youth sports were circulating on social media.
The rumor was St. Mary’s County Recreation and Parks wanted to propose some potential fee increases for youth sports that would pay for county park employees. The rumored fees are a per-player fee increase from the current $9.50 to $33.65 or a brand new per-hour usage fee starting at $10 an hour in FY25. The fear is that either of these increases could price some kids out of sports.
However, at the beginning of the forum, Commissioner President Randy Guy stated that this information was completely false and no such increase was in place.
“I know a lot of you are here because of a posting about raises on our children’s sports games. That is not true. There is no such raise in place,” Guy stated. “The budget process has just started; we won’t receive any information about any kind of increase until about March or April of next year. So the information that you got online, wherever you got it from, was absolutely false. The only people who can make decisions on raising those fees are the five commissioners sitting up here. And we have not made any such decisions. And we got some very angry emails, people talking about a 500% increase, that is absolutely false.”
Even though the Commissioners were not yet aware of these ideas, many youth sports leaders have already been notified of the possible fee increases that could be proposed during the budgeting season by the Recreation and Parks Director himself.
“Due to the potential FY2025 (July 1, 2024, through June 30, 2025) fee increases for Volunteer Youth Sports Leagues, I informed the leagues in May 2023 of the possibility. I scheduled two meetings with the Youth Sports League Leaders this past summer 2023, seeking their input,” Arthur Shepherd, the Director of St. Mary’s County Recreation and Parks, told The BayNet. “The FY2025 departmental operating budgets, which includes the fee schedule, are due to the County’s Finance Department on Tuesday, February 13, 2024. The Public Hearing for the FY2025 budget is scheduled for Tuesday, April 23, 2024. The Commissioners of St. Mary’s County reviews and approves all R&P fees.”
Youth sports leaders wanted to clarify that these were the numbers they were given, and they wanted their voices to be heard before it was too late.
“I find it very, very difficult for our numbers to be wrong when you have all of these people here representing more than 11,000 youth sports participants that think otherwise. So, Commissioners, I am telling you right now, there is a $33.65 proposed per player fee that will be coming to you from the Director. That is coming, that is what we are arguing, that is what we are fighting against,” RJ Bean, the President of St. Mary’s Little League, told the Commissioners.
“We have to do it because if we don’t do it now, then when? If not me, then who? If we wait until April when you guys get these numbers and you maybe approve them without having any public input, then what, are we gonna go back and try and fight to get it taken away…If you think that fee is right for youth sports to shoulder, then I think you would consider charging people that use the tennis courts, the pickleball courts, the outdoor basketball courts, the volleyball courts, the trail walkers, anybody that uses the park to fund that county employee. It should not fall onto the shoulders of these youth sports organizations; it should fall with county money, which is the general fund.”
Bean also noted that these issues seem to stem from miscommunication with the advisory boards.
“With regards to advisory boards, I really think you need to address how the bylaws are set up and what their role is because we have attended multiple advisory board meetings, and I know information from those meetings did not make their way to you. The advisory board believes that they advise the Commissioners through the Director when the bylaws of those boards state that they advise the Commissioners. You appoint them, and they should tell you when they have any community issues. Right now, there’s a breakdown in that process, and I’m telling you there’s a breakdown in that process because I’ve been to five advisory board meetings, and it’s always shouldered on us to reach out to you Commissioners personally to get things done.”
This forum raised the question of possibly changing how the county budgets its funds for recreational sports. The current structure seems to put much of the brunt on youth sports.
“I know you’re saying that these fees are not set in stone, that budget season hasn’t come, but they have been mentioned to the leaders, and the clubs have to start preparing now. We have to make sure we have the funds to cover and provide services for all the children in the county. It just seems a little unfair that salaries for the park attendants only come from sports,” Melissa Fort stated during the forum. “Going to the park with my kids is perfectly fine and free. Walking the paths is free, and taking my dog to the dog park in Lexington Park is free, but their salaries are dependent on my children playing sports. If there are no sports, then I guess there are no jobs because they don’t need to work. One of those employees is actually a relative of mine, and I know she needs to work. So I would ask you to change how your budget is done. Because our children don’t equal salaries, they don’t equal paychecks…We have all these other services at the park that do not pay a service fee. If you wanted to charge a fee that made sense for field maintenance and field use, I could understand, but making my child responsible for whether or not their aunt gets a paycheck is a little unfair to me.”
Youth sports leaders believe the public forum was a success, as any possibility of these potential proposals becoming a reality has hopefully been stifled well ahead of time.
The Commissioners let everyone know that their voices were heard and that everyone should remember to be patient with the budgeting process. Commissioner Guy also stated that he is not a fan of imposing great fees on youth sports and that, so far, all of this is hearsay until anything is officially proposed. The Commissioners had no prior knowledge of these ideas.
“This proposed player fee will set a precedent unlike any other county fee that will ultimately price some families out of youth sports,” Bean told The BayNet. “Now, more than ever, our children are looking to us to provide youth soccer, baseball, softball, football, lacrosse, field hockey, and other sports as an outlet to learn teamwork, exercise, and make memories to last a lifetime! I’m confident the commissioners will do what’s best for the youth in our community and figure out a better way to fund hourly county employees that are providing services to our community.”
For more information, watch the full public forum by clicking here.
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