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Council delays resolution on limiting youth league utility bills

Friday, January 29, 2010 by Jacob Cottingham

The City Council postponed action Thursday on an ordinance that would curtail the city’s current policy of providing essentially limitless funding for the utility bills of youth athletic league facilities. 


Currently the Parks and Recreation Department pays all the water, sewer and lighting costs for youth sports leagues. The new code would authorize the city “to pay utility charges for use of the fields by the youth organizations up to a maximum amount per year per field to be established annually based on the total budget allocated to PARD and the total number of fields within each approved youth sports organization.”


PARD Director Sara Hensley told In Fact Daily that for the last five years those costs have gone over budget $500,000. PARD had to consequently adjust its own budget each year to cover expenditures – which have also been rising. The new ordinance would require each youth organization to “comply with the City’s water and energy conservation regulations, supply all annual reporting requirements, and the calculation method for the utility subsidy paid by the city.”


Israel Lopez spoke to Council on a related resolution that called on the City Manager to negotiate a co-sponsorship agreement with the West Austin Youth Association for youth sports and recreational programming. Lopez spoke on behalf of the Montopolis Little League. “We don’t have the resources,” to deal with current obligations. “The city has completely shut us off,” he said. “My concern is that if the city wants to propose something… we also need the help.”


Council Member Laura Morrison proposed friendly language adding “be it further resolved that the city manager is hereby directed to research additional opportunities for public-private partnerships that increase youth recreational and sports activities” and report on that no later than 60 days after passage of the resolution. Her amendment was accepted and the resolution received a unanimous vote.


Council Member Randi Shade told Lopez, “the whole point of that (new) ordinance is to clean this up so we have equity we haven’t had in the past with respect to how the city allocates resources to the fields.” She said the media had written erroneously about a $5,000 cap. Shade told In Fact Daily, the $5,000 was one of several recommendations that had “been tossed around.”


Hensley told In Fact Daily some of the utility units at the fields weren’t metered, and that there may have been more efficient practices to manage utility costs through watering techniques or different light bulbs. “This is not about punishing them at all; this is about getting ourselves back in good shape,” she said. Hensley said the department “needs to be more responsible and proactive in working with our partners providing such a wonderful service.”


PARD is going to be assessing the youth sports fields, engaging in minor repairs and cataloging the capital expenditures, Hensley said. Shade meanwhile characterized the ordinance as “improving accountability and creating process where we haven’t had it formalized in the past.” 


The delay in the ordinance was simply to provide more time to get all of the city’s staff and community stakeholders “on the same page,” Hensley said.

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