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Clintonville Youth League considers leaving city

Sports organization at odds with city over park maintenance

By Bert Lehman

The Clintonville Youth League wants an agreement regarding maintenance and facility improvements at Bucholtz Park before it pays its outstanding 2018 user fees to the city.

Chris Schley, vice president and treasurer of Clintonville Youth League, said the league received the invoice for the 2018 user fees in August and acknowledged it has not paid the fees.

He said the league can afford the fees but first wants to come to an agreement with the city of Clintonville regarding the maintenance of Bucholtz Park.

At the Jan. 3 Clintonville Parks and Recreation Committee, Parks and Recreation Director Justin Mc Auly said three sports leagues that use the ball diamonds at Bucholtz Park or W.A. Olen Park had yet to pay their 2018 use fees:

  • The Clintonville Youth League, which includes youth baseball, had paid its concession stand lease fees but still owed the city $4,850.
  • Clintonville American Legion owed $1,556.
  • The Christian Softball League owed $540.

Since then, the Christian Softball League paid its 2018 user fees invoice in full, and the American Legion promised to pay this week, Clintonville City Administrator Sharon Eveland told the Tribune-Gazette earlier this week.

The Clintonville Youth League remains the only organization with an outstanding balance.

Mc Auly said the city normally receives the ballpark user fees from organizations in July or August, as he normally sends out invoices in June.

Mc Auly

Mc Auly said Jan. 3 that he believed the Clintonville Youth League and American Legion hoped negotiations would take place regarding the fees.

“We’ve had presentations with the Clintonville Youth League and Girls Fast Pitch [League] to drop all fees, drop 2018 fees and drop all future fees if they do a capital project up there and install dugouts,” Mc Auly said.

Committee Chairman Steve Kettenhoven said he has a problem with groups not paying for services they already received and using the unpaid fees in future negotiations.

“There shouldn’t be any negotiation as far as that money for services already provided,” Kettenhoven said. “That would have had to have been done ahead of time, not after.

“The renovations have nothing to do with collecting this money,” Kettenhoven said.

He suggested involving Eveland and Clintonville City Attorney Keith Steckbauer in the discussions.

Mc Auly told the committee that in 2017 the city drastically reduced the fees it charged the Clintonville Youth League.

“Going into 2018 they knew what their fees were going to be, and they used [city facilities]. … That’s where I have a problem,” Mc Auly said. “If this would have been brought up before the 2018 season started, I think it would be a different situation.”

Committee member Chuck Manske recommended the city not allow sports leagues to use city facilities unless the 2018 user fees are paid.


League asked to waive user fee in exchange for donations

At an August Clintonville Parks and Recreation Committee meeting, Schley proposed having the Youth League pay directly for park improvements instead of paying user fees.

The idea focused on building new dugouts at Bucholtz Park. Schley said the committee was receptive of the idea and asked for a formal proposal to be presented at the September meeting.

According to the minutes from the August parks and recreation committee meeting, Schley presented a dugout concept and said the Youth League would fund the approximately $30,000 project if in return the parks and recreation committee eliminated the organization’s annual park user fees.

The Clintonville Youth League offered to replace the dugouts at Bucholtz Park in Clintonville if the city waived the organization’s annual user fee.
Erik Buchinger file photo

Schley said when the Youth League presented a formal proposal at the committee’s September meeting, the committee told him user fees could not be included in the discussions.

According to the minutes from the September parks and recreation committee meeting: “Mc Auly informed the committee that the cost to maintain the ball diamonds every year is $13,563.34; approximately $7,561.50 of that is offset by user fees. Mc Auly stated that he would need to make up for that amount every year in his budget if he were to eliminate the user fees for the [Clintonville Youth League]. … Discussion followed on the possibility of the city paying for the cost of half of the dugouts and Mc Auly was questioned on where the money would come from. [Committee member Jim] Supanich suggested postponing discussion another month to give Mc Auly time to meet with Administrator Eveland and determine if they could commit to paying of half of the dugouts.”


Concerns over field maintenance

Schley told the Tribune-Gazette that the Youth League researched how other communities operate their facilities and determined New London and Shawano do not charge a user fee. Instead, those cities’ parks and recreation departments maintain and prepare the fields.

“That way when the coaches get there and the players get there, all they have to do is play baseball,” Schley said.

Eveland told the Tribune-Gazette the city’s research showed that communities do a mix of things, including “charging user fees and maintaining, to not charging user fees while also still maintaining, to not charging user fees but the organizations are solely responsible for maintenance and major capital purchases.”

“There is no one way this is done, nor does there need to be,” Eveland said.

Schley said the city of Clintonville currently mows the grass at the ball diamonds, but the Youth League puts down the baselines and drags or rakes the diamond.

He also said the Youth League notifies the city of maintenance items that need to be done, but the city doesn’t always rectify those items.

Schley communicated concerns about the lack of maintenance to Eveland and Mc Auly via email on Oct. 30.

In that email, Schley reiterated the proposal the Youth League was presenting the city, and said the goal of the Youth League is to “invest funds generated directly into Bucholtz Park baseball fields and related infrastructure such as field lighting, remodeling or building a new concession stand and restrooms, new dugouts, maintaining scoreboards, batting cages, and field playing surfaces.”

He continued: “To be clear, we are not willing to pay an annual park & rec fee knowing the funds are not used to maintain or improve the park’s infrastructure. Furthermore, our organizations have been dissatisfied with the Clintonville Park & Rec staff in recent years and believe the work performed, and field conditions at Bucholtz Park, is less than adequate, as compared to the work performed by the neighboring Park & Rec staffs, to which no player participant fees are collected.”

The email concluded with Schley stating Clintonville Youth League would consider leaving the city for the 2019 season if the city rejected its offer.

Schley also expressed the Youth League’s concerns at the October parks and recreation committee meeting later that day.

According to the meeting minutes: “Mc Auly briefly recapped that the Clintonville Youth League is willing to replace the dugouts at Bucholtz Park at their expense and in return would like all future user fees to be waived. Mc Auly stated that last year they paid $5,864 in user fees and if he would eliminate that revenue from his budget he would either have to cut expenditures/services or raise taxes. … Schley expressed some of the concerns of the Youth League including the care of the field and where the user fee revenue was being spent. Eveland explained the hardship it would cause the Park & Rec Department to completely eliminate the fees and how the budget would be impacted. … Eveland explained the difference between the operating budget and the capital budget and proposed the city could possibly commit to allocating funds annually to assist with capital improvement projects to the fields rather than eliminating user fees.”

Eveland told the Tribune-Gazette the first time she became aware of maintenance issues was after the city informed the Clintonville Youth League and Clintonville Fast Pitch that it was unlikely user fees would be eliminated.

“I have no knowledge of the organizations doing any maintenance at the fields,” Eveland said. “We spend approximately $30,000 on maintaining the Olen and Bucholtz Park fields and we receive just $10,000 in revenue, leaving $20,000 from the annual property tax levy that is used to maintain the fields.”

According to a city document, ball diamond maintenance in 2017 totaled $9,815, of which $7,184 was for labor. Hours totaled around 200.

According to the document, the cost per hour for labor was $36.79.

Schley questioned how the city calculated an hourly rate of $36.79.

When asked by the Tribune-Gazette, Eveland said, “It is the total cost to the city of one hour of employee time, which includes the cost of all associated payroll taxes and benefits.”


Taking ownership of ball fields

Schley also told the Tribune-Gazette that during this process the city and the Youth League discussed the league taking ownership of the fields at Bucholtz Park.

“Our group is interested in learning more about taking ownership of the fields at Bucholtz Park,” Schley stated in a December email to McAuly. “That said, please have Sharon [Eveland] move forward with speaking with the mayor and or council.”

When asked about the topic, Eveland responded: “We had a discussion with representatives of both the CYL and Fast Pitch about the idea of the leagues taking over all maintenance and capital in exchange for new fees, as well as the city either donating or selling the ball fields. That discussion was very preliminary and has not been discussed at any committees as of yet.”


Later in a Jan. 7 email to Clintonville Fast Pitch and Clintonville Youth League, Eveland stated: “While I will be happy to discuss any questions you have regarding your 2018 invoice, the city will not discuss moving forward on any capital projects or potential sale/donation of the fields until the 2018 invoices are paid.”

Clintonville Fast Pitch had paid its 2018 user fees while Clintonville Youth League had not.

“That being said, I have received positive feedback from the mayor and the chair of the Park and Rec Committee on a possible sale/donation or other such large-scale arrangement. Once the invoice is paid, I would be more than happy to discuss this possibility,” Eveland stated in the email.

In response, Schley emailed Eveland on Jan. 14 requesting to verbally discuss the situation.

He also stated, “If we can come to an agreement about expectations of the Park and Rec staff and if they agree to prepare the fields so our coaches can just coach, we would pay the 2018 invoice and return for the 2019 season.

“If no additional work will be performed our baseball league is considering leaving Clintonville Park & Rec fields and playing our season on other fields outside of Clintonville.”

Eveland responded to Schley the same day stating that before discussion of other issues continues, the the 2018 invoice must be paid because those services were already rendered.

“Once that invoice is paid, we are ready and eager to move forward on a joint effort to find a way to improve services, whether that is through additional capital projects, the city donating/selling the property to the organizations, or the organizations assuming all maintenance, operating expenses, and capital purchases while the city retains ownership of the land but doesn’t charge a user fee,” she stated.

Schley said Clintonville Youth League has talked with Embarrass and Bear Creek about hosting the Clintonville Youth League in 2019 and beyond. He said both communities were receptive to the idea.


Follow-up with Eveland

In a statement to the Tribune-Gazette regarding Clintonville’s city parks and the organizations that use them, Eveland said the city works to address the organizations’ concerns but cannot afford to tackle them all.

“Major capital repairs are needed in almost every department, from streets to our fire department to our parks,” she stated. “The city cannot afford to fix everything at the same time.

She said Mc Auly and his three parks employees work hard to maintain 91 acres of outdoor recreation land at 15 sites.

“The average standard is 10 acres for every 1,000 residents, and the city is at double that standard,” Eveland stated. “In the city’s recent Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan update, the consultant identified 15 other communities in our region and only three of them met or exceeded our managed acreage proportion and a few did not even meet the minimum acreage standard.”

Eveland acknowledged there is room for the city to improve.

“Does the City want [to] work with all organizations that help make our community better? Absolutely, but only when it is a true partnership,” Eveland stated. “We understand the value these organizations bring to our community and we appreciate the work these volunteers do to provide these programs to Clintonville and surrounding townships. We are simply constrained by all that we are tasked to do when we are working hard to limit the financial impact on our property taxpayers.”

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