NY county to charge for using parks

Nassau County (NY) Executive Laura Curran has begun charging thousands of dollars in fees to youth Little Leagues and other community sports organizations that traditionally play for free in county parks.

The plan to impose more than $1 million in previously waived fees on nonprofit groups such as the Boy Scouts, senior softball and charities comes because Nassau “is currently in a fiscal crisis,” according to a memo from Deputy County Executive Helena Williams.

But charging the fees will make it more difficult for youths to play after-school sports because their parents will not be able to afford the increased costs, while making it more likely that young people will turn to drugs, county legislators warned.

“At a time we are talking about an opioid crisis across Long Island, the universal antidote is to provide extracurricular activities,” said Legis. Steve Rhoads (R-Bellmore).

“Why would we make it more difficult to engage in those outlets is beyond comprehension,” Rhoads said. “The notion that we are somehow going to balance our budget on the backs of children engaging in All-American activities like Little League Baseball is outrageous.”

Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said, “I know the county executive is trying to turn over every cushion” in an effort to balance the county budget.

“But this type of added expense to youth leagues are just going to be passed on to the parents,” Abrahams said. “At the end of the day, a $125 league will turn into $250 and will end up phasing out a lot of kids that enjoy playing Little Leagues and sports. Ultimately, their families will not be able to afford it.”

Curran said county taxpayers “can’t afford to subsidize these park activities, even as popular as they all are. My budget uses park fees to restore the shortfall in funding for county expenses such as the fire service’s vocational education and extensions board, and youth programs throughout our legislative districts.”

Curran is expected to give the county’s financial control board a revised $2.9 billion county budget Thursday. She was to brief Republican and Democratic legislators about her changes late Wednesday.

Under the fee ordinance approved by the county legislature, the parks commissioner has the discretion to waive fees and traditionally has not charged youth leagues and nonprofits.

But in a Feb. 27 memo, Williams directed Parks Commissioner Eileen Krieb, a Curran appointee, “to adhere to a strict non-fee waiving” policy. Krieb has indicated the county waived $596,799 in ballfield fees last year. A Curran spokesman said another $400,000 in waivers was granted for other park uses.

On March 1, the Seaford Little League received a $16,000 bill, due March 12, to play in Washington Park, said Rhoads. He and Legis. Rose Walker (R-Hicksville) have announced a 6 p.m. rally Thursday at Washington Park to protest the fees.

Mike Villeck, the league’s vice president of softball, said league officials were “appalled” by the bill.

“The whole community is appalled by it,” he said.

“If the county wants to charge us, we just can’t play there,” he said. “We don’t have $16,000.”

Abrahams predicted the county will not raise $1 million because the groups will look to use school districts, towns and village ballfields instead of county parks.

“We’re still hoping the county executive will do the right thing,” Rhoads said, He noted the legislature had given the parks commissioner the discretion to waive or impose fees. “The legislature may step in to take the discretion away.”

Congressman Pete King (R-Seaford) issued a statement condemning the fees, saying: “At a time when the cost of travel teams is prohibitive for so many families and taxes are too high for everyone, it is unconscionable for the County to be imposing fees which will prevent so many young kids from having the opportunity to play our National Pastime.” – by Celeste Hadrick, Newsday (New York)