Ball field fee hikes will hamper leagues in Allegheny County
Some sports leagues are crying foul over an increase in permit fees for Allegheny County ball fields.
Allegheny County Council in August agreed to increase activity and usage fees at county parks. The ball field fee hikes are raising some eyebrows because many league officials saw them for the first time between Feb. 5 and Wednesday, when the county Parks Department accepted applications for league permits and playing time slots for 2014.
“We won't have as many (games), and we are trying to see if we can find another, more cost-effective location, which is not an easy task,” said Lisa Doyle, registrar of Mars Girls' Youth Lacrosse, which plays games at J.C. Stone Field in North Park.
The fee increases will offset rising maintenance costs and deter youth groups from reserving fields they don't use, a county councilman said. Demand for the fields has increased.
Out-of-county groups pay 25 percent more than in-county groups for field permits, and the county eliminated free use of fields by youth groups, which used to use fields at no cost on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to noon on weekends.
The steepest price increase is for the most requested field, J.C. Stone Field, a turf field popular for football, lacrosse and soccer games.
Until this year, groups paid $60 for a three-hour time slot there, without lights, and $170 for three hours with lights, plus the cost of an electrician.
Now, the permit fee without lights is $150 an hour for Allegheny County groups and $188 for out-of-county groups. To use the field with lights, a permit costs $250 per hour and $313 per hour for in-county and out-of-county groups, respectively.
Permits for most other fields that used to cost $30 for three hours are $60 for in-county groups and $75 for out-of-county groups. The 50 percent discount for nonprofit groups was eliminated at J.C. Stone Field, but it can be used at other fields.
Mars Girls' Youth Lacrosse used J.C. Stone for free for about 15 games in spring, except for $25 an hour for lighting sometimes, but the $6,000 it would cost to use the field as often this year is unaffordable, said Doyle, who said lacrosse requires rectangular fields.
Field bookings at county parks increased 37 percent to 6,223 between 2009 and 2013, and most of those were from sports leagues, the Parks Department said.
The department tries to accommodate the growing demand, Director Andrew Baechle said.
“Nobody gets everything they want, but we try to give something to everyone,” he said.
County revenue from field bookings increased about 49 percent to $59,280 from 2009 to 2013, but the department gave youth groups free field use worth $110,045 last year, the county said.
“These organizations charge admission to the parks, and if they feel that the (permit fee) increase is detrimental, they should increase their admission fees,” said Council Vice President Nicholas Futules, who chairs the parks committee.
It costs more than $25 million a year to operate the parks, which receive $18 million from the Allegheny Regional Asset District and $2 million to $3 million from usage fees, he said.
Fee increases are projected to bring in an extra $300,000 to $500,000 annually, he said.
“We're not really gaining ground. We're trying to keep an even playing field for the county budget,” Futules said.
Eliminating the nonprofit discount at J.C. Stone Field was necessary because the county spent $3 million to renovate the field in the past few years, he said.
St. Mary School, a Catholic school in Indiana Township, typically holds multiple soccer games on each of four Sundays in spring, and football games on four or five Sundays in fall at J.C. Stone.
Playing soccer on four dates would cost about $3,600 this year, said Tom Iurlano, treasurer of St. Mary's athletic association.
“That's quite an increase to be paying for a county park that I feel I already pay county taxes for,” he said.
St. Mary will not play football games at J.C. Stone this year, and it will play soccer games at McKinney Field in North Park or another field, he said.
Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School in Troy Hill uses J.C. Stone Field daily for practice and games during football season, said Don Teti, assistant superintendent for secondary schools in the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
If fees do not decrease by the start of football season, the school will use the field only during scrimmages and home games, he said.
Tory N. Parrish is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5662 or firstname.lastname@example.org.