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Pay to play fails to pass council vote

ENCINITAS — Youth soccer, baseball and softball teams will continue to play for free on city-owned athletic fields.
The fee schedule for youth sports league use of city-owned athletic fields was debated at the City Council meeting June 17.
Prior to 1998, when the fee of $4 to $5 an hour was suspended, an average of $35,000 annually was collected from the groups using the fields and deposited into the general fund.
The fields are open for nine months and undergo maintenance for the additional three months according to city staff. Seven resident recreational groups take up 15,000 hours annually at the three fields — Cardiff Sports Park, Leo Mullen Sports Park and Ecke Sports Park.
Rick Ritchie, president of the Encinitas Little League, said the nonprofit organization could not afford to absorb the cost of increased fess. He told the council that each player pays $150 per registration fee. Any increases would be passed on to the players. “I think it would dramatically reduce the access we have,” he said.
He urged the council to vote no. “I think we’re good community partners,” he said.
Rick Lockner, president of the Encinitas Soccer League, said that while the organization had no formal position on paying fees, the impact would be felt at the youngest playing ages. “They are deferring registration,” he said.
In addition to city-owned fields, the soccer league also relies heavily on high school fields for play by older teams. The rates are as high as $93 per hour according to Lockner.
The league’s participation is down 20 percent Lockner told the council. “As the fees increase it is a barrier to participation,” he said
Councilman Jerome Stocks said that levying field use fees would represent an “assault on Encinitas families.”
“We have a balanced budget and I think our priorities are in line,” Stocks said.
His motion to leave the fees as is without an increase to youth sports leagues passed 3-2 with Mayor Maggie Houlihan and Councilwoman Teresa Barth opposed.
“I’m looking at how we do business and are we fair and equitable to all our residents,” Barth said. She said she would prefer that the city consider a flat fee for field use. Barth said fees should be waived for all youth sports, regardless where it happens.
Houlihan said her concern was that the fields are for exclusive use by the youth leagues, while other groups with activities at the Community and Senior Center are charged at a fee. “We have to look out for everyone,” she said.

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