Discussions heated up at the Tuesday, June 4, Galt City Council meeting as Council members were asked to raise participation fees for youth sports.
Facing a budget deficit that has been called a “financial crisis”, this may be just the first of many hard decisions Council members will be asked to make.
A quick presentation by Finance Director Claire Tyson, recapping the financial doom and gloom presented at the last Council meeting, showed the Parks and Recreation Department in the red in a couple of years; raising participation fees was to help the deficit.
Public speaker Craig Skinner voiced his concern over raising the fees for youth sports, saying the youth sports programs were not receiving the quality of service that they should be, and questioned raising costs for the “easiest targets”.
“Don’t know if any of you have been to any of the public events or youth sports; if you have, I’m sure you’ve seen the fields are falling apart; infrastructure is horrible,” Skinner said. “[We’re] not investing back in what we have. Fields don’t work as far as scoreboards, holes in tarps, getting stuff in plastic bags as far as t-ball is concerned, we haven’t received new equipment, it’s unsafe, I have helmets from ’89, that you want me to put on little girls; talk about concussion issues. Communication is horrible.”
Skinner went on to say he felt the fee increases were aimed at strategic targets.
“[You’re] talking about we have no money and we want to increase fees; you’re targeting the easiest people and that’s parents who will do anything for their kids,” Skinner said.
Vice Mayor Shawn Farmer was concerned, as well, and didn’t feel right about raising the costs.
“Bottom line, these programs are critical,” Farmer said. “I think we need to remind ourselves that kids are first and that we need to fight for these programs. I’m personally going to fight hard for this stuff. I don’t think the answer here is to raise fees on the one thing that our community uses the most.”
Councilman Rich Lozano spoke about nonprofit youth programs that help to maintain fields in surrounding communities.
“We need to look at what we want as a community. The folks that are in the room tonight that are part of youth organizations or their children play in our recreation programs, it’s really up to you what you want,” Lozano said. “So think about that as we move forward. We’ve got an awesome opportunity with all the folks in the room tonight to move forward.”
Lozano proceeded to make a motion to not increase the youth sports fees for the year, “but next year if we need to, I’d be willing to take another look at that.”
Calling the fee increase a “very reasonable adjustment”, Councilman Curt Campion said that motion didn’t make sense to him.
“That motion does nothing,” Campion said. “My concern is there are ongoing costs in terms of salary increases, maintenance operations. We have declining revenue from the flea market; it’s being subsidized to the tune of $1 million. Not to pick on any particular program in the city, I just think it’s prudent to look at where we are financially. I don’t know that a $5 increase will make that much of a difference; some aren’t rising at all, so that motion does nothing. I have a hard time trying to reconcile not to try to at least stay up with what our actual costs are in terms of salaries of our employees trying to run the program when we already significantly subside it. That is my concern.”
Later during the discussion, Farmer once again tried to bring up some of the deficiencies parents have voiced about the youth sports programs, only to be interrupted by Campion, who felt they were “getting caught up in the minutia.”
Farmer rebuked Campion for interrupting him, saying “I’m talking about what we’re getting for those fees.”
Getting back around to Lozano’s original motion with clarification, to not raise fees for t-ball, softball and basketball youth programs, Interim City Manager Tom Haglund advised council to make the decision for the “time being”.
“As the council is aware, the city does have a very significant financial deficit, structural deficit, that it does need to resolve,” Haglund said. “Council has agreed with previous recommendations and directed us to work through a schedule reviewing the affected funds that give rise to the structural deficit, which one of those funds is the cultural and recreation fund. And so, as we seek to find resolution to our structural deficit, I think that it is important to look at all of the areas of both expenditure and potential revenue so that you can make a holistic decision later this summer as to what you’re going to do as far as cuts, and what you’re going to do with respect to revenue. All I’m really saying is that if later this summer, by August when you’re making decisions, you decide to return to this particular item to raise these fees or reconsider these fees, that you provide yourself the leeway to do so.”
The motion passed 4-1, with Campion with the declining vote.