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Local

Soccer club disputes city’s fees at Agnes Patterson

Citing $130K investment to park over time, club wants no user agreement

A Newton soccer club is rejecting the city’s proposal to alter field use fees at Agnes Patterson Park for local sports leagues, and has thereby declined to enter into the agreement up for approval by the city council Monday, arguing it “should be exempt from any kind of user agreement because of the large and continued investment” it has made to the soccer complex.

Kendall Miller, president of the Newton Area Soccer Association (NASA), spoke to the Newton City Council during the citizen participation session of the April 1 meeting about his disagreements, as well as what would happen to the nonprofit if it were to adhere to the continued or changed fees.

Opposed to the current fee of $50 per field per day (or $5 per hour per field) and the fee change proposal of $10 per registered player, Miller claimed NASA would “be bankrupt in approximately six years” if it did not raise the registration fee in response to the city’s request.

About two years ago, Miller said NASA raised its registration costs for soccer youths ages 4 through 18 by $10 “to help stabilize (the organization’s) financial status.” The club has purposefully kept its fees “as low as possible” to provide soccer opportunities “to as many kids in Newton as we can.”

Currently, NASA’s registration price for youth soccer players ages 4 and 5 is $35 per player; ages 6 through 9 is $50 per player; ages 10 through 13 is $60 per player; and ages 14 through 18 is $70 per player. A 10 percent discount, however, is available if applied online.

By comparison, the Newton YMCA’s spring outdoor soccer league, for children in kindergarten through sixth grade, offers a $27 registration fee for Y members or $40 for non-members if they sign up before March 1. However, beginning March 1, the price increases for both participants by $20.

As of April 5, NASA has registered 205 players to its soccer programs. If the $10 charge per player were to apply to the club, NASA would pay approximately $2,050 this spring season. That total, Miller said, could double in the fall season.

Arguing that NASA helped “make Agnes Patterson what it is today,” Miller told city council members the nonprofit soccer club has invested more than $130,000 into the park over the course of several years.

According to the club’s treasurer reports, several payments from NASA were given to the city for park and field improvements, including a $28,638 disbursement in January 2001 for the construction of a concession stand at Agnes Patterson Park.

An August 2001 payment of $1,118 was for the construction of cabinets in the concession stand. Other payments in the same month were used to supplement the construction or installation of other amenities for the concession stand, such as $206 for countertops.

NASA also reported payments of more than $7,000 for cement work in 2003 on sidewalks in Agnes Patterson Park, more than $3,000 for soccer field and dirt labor in 2004 and more than $300 for seeding in 2005. Some of the more significant payments date back to 1998 and 1999, in which Miller claimed NASA entered into a joint fundraising project with the city called Kick It In.

“Back in 1998 and 1999 is when the fundraising was happening for Agnes Patterson to get built,” Miller told the Newton Daily News. “NASA and the City of Newton partnered to help create anything that’s on the north end of Agnes Patterson. NASA had a direct involvement in that.”

Miller, who has spent four years as the president of NASA, cited multiple disbursements made to the City of Newton as part of the Kick It In project, ranging from as high as $22,000 and as low as $650. When Miller brought this information to the attention of city staff, he said no one was around at the time of the project’s lifecycle.

There have been a few instances, Miller claimed, in which NASA did not help pay for improvements: the extension of two sidewalks to fields and the paving of two handicap parking spots, as well as work for the soccer field on top of the hill. All of which took place in 2014, he said.

Although the city’s new fee proposal would be cheaper than the current model, which NASA would still have to pay this season, Miller stands firm that the soccer club should not have to pay a user agreement given its investment into the improvements of Agnes Patterson Park.

Miller added, “Do I think it’s a fair structure? If we had to pay it, I would certainly rather pay the per player per season fee over the field fee ... But do I agree with the fee? No.”

City perspective 

According to the April 15 city council agenda documents, a reorganization in August 2017 split the community services department from public works and prompted “supervisors and managers in both areas” to begin “discussing ways to regain some control and revenue from soccer and ball field use at Agnes Patterson Park.”

In recent years, city staff claimed youth sports leagues were using the fields and not providing complete schedules when needed and “also were not paying the council-approved field rental fees.”

Community services manager Brian Laube said field rental fees had been in place for years for institutions like NASA, Newton Girls Softball Association (NGSA) and Newton Little League Baseball. During the city’s reorganization period, Laube discovered there were prior verbal agreements about field responsibilities between the leagues and past city officials.

Meetings were held with Laube, other members of the city staff and league representatives to determine a new plan for field use agreements. In addition to the fee, a plan would designate field responsibilities and upkeep duties for each league.

“The biggest thing is just trying to get all the verbal agreements from past years in writing — that’s kind of the main purpose of this agreement,” Laube said.

The proposed agreements would also “eliminate any past verbal or unwritten agreements and provide the leagues with an easier way to budget for the annual expenses due to a proposed per player fee” in lieu of the field charges, agenda documents said.

As a result, both NGSA and Newton Little League opted into a three-year agreement with the city and accepted its charge of $10 per registered player per season. City staff estimated the fee “will help offset, but not completely cover, the ever-increasing costs of field maintenance” conducted by parks and public works operations.

“When we initially met with all these groups, we said the city is not trying to go out and bankrupt these groups,” Laube said. “We want to support them. Our maintenance costs are increasing every year, and this, by no means, would help cover those costs. It’s just a little bit more to help offset it.”

The city’s fee proposal was brought before the Newton Park Board during its October 2018 meeting. Three months later, park board members unanimously voted in favor of the motion recommending staff present the new fee agreements to city council for approval.

NASA had chosen not to enter into the agreement and is subject to any existing rules. If NASA did decide to opt into the agreement, it would require another resolution that would need to be approved by the Newton City Council.

Laube said the city is still willing to work with the soccer club. Acknowledging the Newton soccer club regularly runs two seasons a year, Laube said there were talks of how to define what a season was in terms of its length. 

“They’re not being forced to do this,” Laube said. “It’s just a proposal ... We said we would work with them … We’re willing to be flexible on a lot of stuff.”

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com

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