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Sports Lovers Warn That Raising Field Fees Will Sideline Players

By DNAinfo Staff on January 25, 2011 4:03pm

By Jill Colvin

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

CHELSEA — A handful of sports lovers warned the city Tuesday that raising fees for using city baseball fields, soccer fields, basketball and tennis courts will leave players on the sidelines.

The city has proposed boosting fees for sports facilities across the borough to help close a multi-billion dollar budget deficit.

Under the proposed rules, baseball field fees would increase from about $8 an hour to $12.50, while basketball court fees would increase from about $5 an hour to $8. Adult tennis fees would double from $100 to $200 a year and $7 to $15 a game.

Jean Silva, who runs the Manhattan-based NYC Softball, spoke out against the increase following a public hearing about the proposed cuts at the Chelsea Recreation Center held by the Parks Department Tuesday. Silva's organization has 35 teams who play in fields across Midtown and Lower Manhattan. She said that families are already struggling to pay fees and that any boost will almost certainly force players to leave the league.

Central Park is a popular location for teams when it's not frigid cold.
Central Park is a popular location for teams when it's not frigid cold.
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"The teams are really going to be hit hard," she warned.

Lou LeForte, 62, who runs the Expo Athletic Association in Brooklyn, said that right now he can barely afford the approximately $45,000 a year in fees he pays to keep his leagues up and running.

"We’re at rock bottom," he said, adding that many of the 2,000 young people and adults who play on his soccer, football, softball and Frisbee teams are having trouble paying to play now.

Membership fees at recreation centers would also jump from $50 to $100 a year for adults at centers without indoor pools and from $10 to $25 for seniors. The age to qualify for the seniors' rate would rise from 55 to 62.

Vickie Karp, director of public affairs at the Parks Department, said the officials felt the higher fees were better than cutting back on centers' hours or closing centers altogether, both of which were on the table.

"These are very modest increases in very tough times," said Karp, adding that, even with the increases, "We think recreation centers are the best deal in town."

Juliana Dubovsky of New Yorkers for Parks, said that the city's recreation facilities play a key role for communities, especially in Upper Manhattan neighborhoods, and called on the Department to find another source of income.

"We would like to stress the gravity of these budget cuts," she said. "Your health shouldn’t have to be a choice. It should be a public service."

City Council members also urged the Parks Department to reconsider increasing the membership fees, which would generate an added $4 million a year. They suggested charging people more depending on their means or making the increases voluntary, like at city museums.

But not everyone was complaining.

School bus driver Dan Connor, 57, a new member at the Chelsea Recreation Center, said that even with the increase, he thinks members are getting a great deal compared to private clubs.

He also said that higher fees are better than forcing the city to make cuts to the the fire and sanitation departments, where his sons work.

"It’s not bad," agreed Joel Reyes, 20, another member of the Chelsea Recreation Center, taking a break from an intense game of ping pong.

The Parks Department will now take 30 days to review the testimony before it announces a final decision.

If approved, the membership fees will increase July 1, tennis fees in April, and field use fees no earlier than fall 2011, Karp said.