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Local Sports Groups React to Field Fees

Leaders from various sports groups share their opinion during Monday night's Town Council conference meeting

On Monday night, members from various local sports organizations were invited to the council chambers for a public conversation concerning the field usage fees that have been discussed at recent council meetings.

Under the current proposal, parents of children participating in independent organized sports leagues, such as the Livingston Soccer Club, would be required to pay a fee that would help cover the costs of keeping the town's fields in playing condition.

The fee would vary based on the amount of field usage. Children participating in sports that produce more wear and tear on the fields would be required to pay more than those playing sport that was less intensive, such as baseball.

Township Manager Michele Meade began the discussion by reflecting back on what improvements have been made to the fields, which she described as one of the most popular complaints since assuming her position.

Since that time, the Parks Commission was merged with the Department of Public Works to provide additional personnel to work on the fields. In addition, new equipment, including a larger mower, was purchased in order to help expedite maintenance of the fields.

In recent years, however, the township has seen a decline in revenues because of a number of reasons, including a decline in state payments and an increase in property tax appeals.

Meade estimated between $650,000 and $700,000 is devoted to the salaries of employees maintaining the fields although she clarified those workers also maintain the pieces of property around other township buildings. "I can't say that one hundred percent of this is devoted to ball fields".

"We want to continue our improvements of the fields," she said noting the town needed ways to help cope with the declining revenues. At most, the fees would raise $70,000.

Deputy Mayor Steve Santola, who helped arrange the meeting, said he was in favor of the fees. "As a parent of a child in sports, I want the fee because it ensures the service," he said.

"This is in no way meant to be a tax on anyone's organization".

Peter Gaudioso of the Livingston Junior Lancer Association asked why the practice fields were only lined twice during the season. Superintendent of Public Works Mike Anello, who was also in attendance, explained the high school football team practiced on the wet field causing it to be ripped up despite signage indicating that the field was closed.

"I wasn't about to put my machine out there because it was all mud and ruts," Anello said.

Dave McLaughlin, speaking on behalf of Livingston Travel Baseball, was adamant he was not in favor of the proposed fees. McLaughlin, who manages the traveling teams with a group of other fathers noted they are not an organization. "We don't have a bank account," he said.

McLaughlin added he personally schedules the group's games for Ken Lomax of the Recreation Department to ensure that everyone gets a field. "If that's going to happen [fee implementation], maybe I don't have time to do the scheduling," he said.

McLaughlin questioned Meade on whether the teams would be charged, even if the fields weren't in the desired condition when the game or practice occurred.

Meade was clear in her response. "If you play on the fields; you're going to be charged. If you don't play on the fields; you're not going to be charged," she said.

Resident John Anderson inquired whether individuals would be charged for playing pick-up sports games on the township fields. Deputy Mayor Santola assured him they would not be, provided another group didn't already have a permit to use the field.

One of the requests by Pat Ippolito was assurance from the council regular meetings be held with leaders from the various sports groups to ensure the quality of service provided by the township is meeting expectations.

The town manager added weekend personnel will be added to help move goals and line fields. In addition, the council indicated they would be open to the idea of a freeze to ensure that the field usage fees wouldn't increase within the next few years.

The council intends to introduce an ordinance in the near future regarding the fees, but promised to first send a copy to the groups to maintain dialogue.

In other news....

  • Deputy Township Manager Russ Jones announced that 19 deer have been culled to date as a part of the township's Deer Management Program.
  • Meade announced plans to purchase a replacement microscreen filter for use in the town's water filtration facility. The township manager explained the filter is used to separate solids from the water. She pointed out the purchase is not a very frequent one and estimated that the township replaces the filters once every 25 years.

The town council meets again next Monday, Dec. 5, for a conference meeting at 7:30 p.m. followed by a regular meeting at 8 p.m.

John Anderson November 29, 2011 at 05:22 PM
i am very curious how many people will have to show up for the council to change its mind. Michele Meade wants the revenue from this and Steve Santola wants it too. With those two in favor it will be interesting to see how many parents come out to say don't do this and how many it will take for the council to change its mind. Good luck because in the past even with a room packed full of seniors they didn't change their mind so maybe a room full of sporting parents will.
theLtowninformant November 29, 2011 at 07:11 PM
The manager is out of her mind if she thinks the Dpw parks and recreation crew will be able to keep up with every field being in a condition where people who are paying for them will find them acceptable. Once you start charging people deserve what they pay for. Anything less is unacceptable and thats what you are going to find.
Dave November 30, 2011 at 01:50 AM
This is a really bad idea. Organized group sports are a benefit to the youth of the community. Now these "leaders" want to impose a tax on kids playing, and make life more difficult for the great volunteers who lead these programs since they will have to raise their fees. All this for $70k? The town and the community need to support the youth organizations because it's for the greater good of the society as a whole. And by the way, the fields aren't very good. Ms. Meade (from her $10,000 desk) likes to point out that other towns do the same thing. Well, other towns also have invested in new turf fields, such as Caldwell and Fairfield. The really sad thing is that this will cost me about $100 a year. If they did a voluntary fund raising drive to improve the fields, I'd have no argument donating more, and helping to raise funds for such a good cause. But instead they choose to tax the kids. Unfortunately there's a lot of ambivalence in Livingston about this type of stuff since it's solved by money. Mark my words, the $15 now will be $50 once the freeze is off in three years. Meanwhile a bunch of out of towners can come and use the fields or basketball courts anytime they want to for free.
theLtowninformant November 30, 2011 at 05:19 AM
this money she raises will go into the general fund it wont be earmarked for just the fields as dave says this is just a tax on the kids. its a shame, maybe the manager will give back some of her 200grand salary and help save the tax payers more expenses.
Karen Samiec November 30, 2011 at 12:11 PM
Michele Meade and Steve Santola are not interested in what parents or anyone else in this town have to say on anything.
Kirby Ehret November 30, 2011 at 02:28 PM
The town is lucky to have people like Pat and Dave and others who give of there time to kids . Maybe listen to them because they are out there in the front lines. Also look at the growth of the soccer club . Livingston is a great town keep the politics out of this .
Dave December 01, 2011 at 02:58 AM
No question Livingston is a great town. One of the reasons it's great is it's support of the youth programs. This field fee indicates that the town doesn't care about the kids anymore, that they just want to use the kids desires to play sports to generate more money. What's the incremental cost of the kids using the fields? The grass would have to be cut anyway, and they would need the town workers for this. All the groups that this applies to, led by the great volunteers who serve on the boards and give their time to adminster and coach in the programs, should all announce that they are folding due to this issue. Then the town will have nobody to collect this tax from. And the kids can still meet up and play. I laugh at the hypocrisy of this. The council is quick to mug for the cameras with the state finalist Little League teams, even though these are the same kids they are trying to tax now. Those kids should all show up at the council meeting with t-shirts saying "Taxation without representation".
Livingston Dad December 02, 2011 at 02:30 PM
Excellent points raised in the opinions above. Raising these fees will not likely go to any true maintenance of the fields. Some fields around town have not been updated in several decades. Has anyone been to the Burnet Hill or Collins baseball fields. There is hardly any dirt in the infield, the fence around home plate looked like it was installed sometime in the 1960's and the benches are in horrible shape. Last spring the fields at Mount Pleasant were in such bad shape that the grass was up to an adult's knees and it was very sad when visiting teams came and questioned us as to how soccer could be played on such a field.

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