By A.C. Hall
The White Settlement Economic Development Corporation met at the end of February and the big item of business before them was establishing a fee schedule for the overhauled Central Park. The park was originally scheduled to be completed by the end of 2012, but is now looking to open by the end of March. Parks and Recreation Director Rich Tharp said the little league opening day is going to happen no matter what.
“We have a “plan B” in place in case weather is such that maybe Central is not ready to go entirely,” Tharp said. “If we have to we’ll move games up to Veterans.”
Getting to the agenda item, Tharp said that they needed to establish fees for new amenities that didn’t exist in the old park, and thus aren’t a part of the current fees. For the outdoor amphitheater, Tharp said staff was proposing $100 per hour with a minimum of two hours. That number would go up if the renter wanted to also use the city’s audio equipment.
Another new rate that was mentioned was for a full day park rental of Central Park. This could apply to corporate events, or anyone else looking to rent the park for an entire day. The current fee mentioned for that was $4,000.
“These are just proposals,” Tharp said.
Tharp also said they could set up a possible discount rate of thirty percent on the rentals for local civic groups, non profits, churches or school districts.
Board member Pat Wirsing voiced a concern over what type of impact a full park rental might have on little league baseball and softball.
“Little league games would obviously be top priority,” Tharp said.
Tharp said any rentals of the park would have to work around little league and tournament schedules. He mentioned that Veterans Park was rented out for corporate events twice last year.
“It worked out really well,” Tharp said.
Wirsing also voiced concerns over infringing on the actual little league contract, which gives them the use of the fields during the season. Tharp stated again that any full park rentals will be worked around the league, and the same would be done to work around the little league football season.
“I think we just wanted to make sure our kids have first priority,” Wirsing said.
Tharp stated that if the board was against it, they didn’t have to offer a full park rental rate.
“What we’re saying is we want to take care of the kids first,” board member Gordon Vess stated. “I’m not going to vote for something to close my children out.”
Wirsing also asked if there were any legal issues that might arise from rentals or tournaments that close off the park to citizens. Mayor Jerry Burns said that’s a question for the lawyers.
“Do you foresee anything in that park being used before our next EDC meeting?” Burns asked Tharp. Burns said they could take another month to study the fee schedule before passing it. It will need to go to City Council for final approval once the EDC passes it.
Linda Ryan suggested having a joint workshop with the council to iron out all of these details. It was tentatively set up for 6 p.m. on March 12, one hour before the council’s next meeting.
The youth association fees was also discussed. Tharp said that after surveying what other parks around are doing, he’s found that most have moved to a new system.
“Pretty much everybody has gone to a per child participant registration fee,” Tharp said.
He said they charge from five to thirty dollars per kid. Currently, White Settlement works on a flat rate that they charge the youth associations for each sport. Tharp indicated they’d like to move to a per participant fee, and proposed it at $12.
According to Tharp, an upside to this new system would be that if the youth association has less participation, they will have to pay less to the city instead of being stuck paying the same flat fee.
Mayor Burns asked what the leagues think about this, Tharp said he hasn’t spoken to the football association yet, but that baseball and softball are interested in the new format.
“I know we’ve got to recoup,” Wirsing said. “But I just don’t want it to be so it prices kids out of the program.”
She asked if some sort of scholarship program might be made available for kids who can’t afford to participate. When asked what the leagues charge per participant, Tharp said it was around $100 to $120 for most of the leagues. He also indicated that going to the per participant fee they pay the city, it could eliminate the need for the city to get involved in the concession sales, leaving that money for the leagues.
One thing that Tharp reminded the board of is the high cost of electricity in the parks, as many games and activities take place at night. He stated that this is the biggest expenditure in the parks.
“I want the leagues included in the discussion,” Wirsing said.
Mayor Burns said they should invite the league representatives to come to the joint workshop.
Finance Director Phil Bray gave the finance report. The sales tax shortfall has been discussed several times recently, and Bray once again brought this up. He stated that there is a projected $500,000 sales tax shortfall projected.
The EDC budget anticipated an ending balance of $1.9 million at the end of the year. With the shortfall, EDC has worked to limit expenditures and Bray said that including these savings they believe they will end the year with $1.7 million.
Tharp gave a quick update of some upcoming park events. The White Settlement Youth Association is starting a champions league, which is a baseball program for special needs children. Tharp said some other programs offer baseball for special needs children, but there are none on this side of town.
“They have about twenty five kids that are signed up for it,” Tharp said.
There will be no charge to participants of this program.
The kid fish and cookout will be held on March 16 at Veteran’s Park, with the Easter event following the next Saturday. Tharp said they’re going to have around 120,000 eggs this year.