The city of Richland rebuilt three ball fields at Badger Mountain Community Park last summer ahead of a state Little League tournament.
Not only did the local Little League take notice, but so did sluggers and coaches from across the state.
“They were so impressed with what we did that they said we want you to do this all the time,” said Phil Pinard, Richland’s Parks and Public Facilities director. He added, “We knocked their socks off, and that’s what we want to do.”
With those compliments in mind — and the possibility that Richland could attract more statewide and regional tournaments — city officials are looking at revamping sports field user fees and doing away with the long-term contracts to manage field availability.
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The city might take on a stronger stewardship role at some of the city’s most-used ball fields. Field maintenance, depending on the location, is now split between the city and the sports organizations.
“That was one of the things that set us on this new path,” Pinard said of the summer tournament.
The new fees would apply to about nine softball fields, seven Little League fields and eight multipurpose fields throughout Richland. It would not apply to general public park space and smaller, low-maintenance ball fields.
Youth sports organizations now rely on three- to five-year contracts to reserve ball fields during their respective seasons. Fees are typically $5 per participant each year, but can be reduced or eliminated if the groups perform facility improvements and park maintenance, Pinard said.
Groups without contracts can rent unlit ball fields for $4.25 an hour for Richland residents and $5.25 per hour for others. Lighted ball fields cost $12.75 per hour for residents and $16.50 for others.
Instead of contracts, the city might offer annual fees based on how frequently groups use a particular field and what kind of maintenence they perform, Pinard said.
“We haven’t come up with any fees yet,” Pinard said, adding that groups could decide whether to let their contract run its course or switch to the new fees.
The new fee structure is still in the planning stages and was discussed publicly during a Nov. 13 Parks and Recreation Commission workshop. Pinard said the city wants to better fund maintenance, but not price the groups out of Richland. The city has reached out to every youth sports organization in Richland and plans to meet with them this winter.
“We don’t want to make it a burden on these groups by making these fees unreasonable,” Pinard said.
A new fee structure might be in place as early as spring, when youth sports organizations start suiting up, Pinard said. He expects to next discuss fee changes with the Parks and Recreation Commission in late January.
West Richland came under fire from youth sports organizations last month after it proposed raising its ball field fees without leaving a clear path open for sports organizations to pay with in-kind services instead of cash.
A last-minute meeting between city officials and sports organizers resulted in the proposed fees being tabled pending further discussion.