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.