Pitch to cut softball fee misses the plate


The city of Grand Rapids has bumped its fee for placing a team in a city-sponsored adult softball league to $750, one of 689 fees charged by city departments that were approved last week. ©Thinkstock.com

Using a slang definition of the word, the topic was far from the “softball” variety.

Grand Rapids city commissioners held a lengthy and lively discussion last week before they authorized 689 fees city departments charge for an extensive array of services that range from building inspections to refuse collections.

The revised fee system goes into effect July 1, the first day of the city’s new fiscal year. Each fee was reviewed and some were revised to help city departments recover the full cost to provide a service. But one new fee stood out, and it drew all the attention in the commission’s chambers.

The city’s Parks and Recreation Department requested the charge for an adult softball team to play in a city-sponsored league be raised to $750. According to department personnel, that fee would cover 90 percent of Parks and Recreation’s cost to administer the summer-long leagues and maintain the fields.

Commissioner Rosalynn Bliss didn’t favor upping the team-softball fee to that level because she felt it would hurt participation in the program.

“I’m very concerned about that. It’s not even competitive with our neighbors,” she said. “I believe we haven’t had a good discussion about that and the negative impact we may have from it.”

Bliss pointed out that leagues with fewer teams could result in less summer revenue for neighborhood businesses, as most players head to a restaurant or tavern after games. She also said the teams that participate in the city’s softball program aren’t elite players.

“They’re moms who have games on Monday nights. These are church leagues,” she said. “I, too, want full cost recovery, but that’s a big hit to people in their daily lives.”

Commissioner James White disagreed. “I think we should support this to continue our cost-recovery plan,” he said.

White argued that each team has from 10 to 15 players and by dividing the fee among them, the charge isn’t all that costly for a summer’s worth of games. “It’s not really that much for that many people,” he said.

Commissioner David Shaffer said it was alright with him if the fee wasn’t increased, but if the board does that, he said the commission should reduce spending by the $12,000 the new fee has been estimated to generate.

Shaffer also felt if the city was going to subsidize the adult softball program, it should do the same for other programs the department offers.

“I support the work the staff has done,” said Commissioner Ruth Kelly. “I played softball and we found sponsors. We can’t pick softball over swim, dance and other activities.”

City Manager Greg Sundstrom said the commission needed to lower the fees as much as it could. He added the city has some of the best playing fields in the area and the department needs enough revenue to maintain them.

Sundstrom also pointed out the increase is only for adult leagues and mentioned the city is still subsidizing the youth softball programs.

“I haven’t heard any complaints about the fee,” said Sundstrom. “The unfortunate simple fact is we don’t have money to do this.”

Commissioners voted in favor of authorizing the new fee schedule by a 5-to-1 margin, as only Bliss objected. Mayor George Heartwell was away and didn’t attend the meeting.

Sundstrom said the city will continue to scrutinize the fees and that last week’s vote didn’t mark an end to the issue. Both he and Shaffer pointed out commissioners can adjust the fees down the road if they feel it’s necessary.

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