Before a standing-room-only crowd, the City Council took the first steps in reviewing the recreation fees for use of recreation facilities in Apopka. The crowd, mostly parents, volunteers, and supporters of youth sports, was vocal and emotional about the idea of being charged to utilize the recreation facilities that they have never been charged for in the past.
“This has been a topic of discussion since I became mayor two years ago,” said Mayor Joe Kilsheimer. “This is about setting the city up for success for the future.”
It was a theme he would return to later in the discussion.
“Apopka has a tremendous reputation for youth sports,” said Ed Walls, President of The Apopka Youth Sports Association. “We have 300 families and 100 volunteers involved every year. A city with a 90-million dollar budget needs to charge children’s programs? Really? There should be no fees. We think the city should put money into these programs. It will create a severe setback. Many of our volunteers have become like extended family to these children.”
Melessa Handy, Vice President of The Pop Warner Football League, pointed out the fragile makeup of the families that might be effected by additional fees to the league.
“We have several at risk kids or kids with a parent being incarcerated or in a single parent home. We’ve had many children who lost parents. And there are many other stories like this. This is who we serve in Pop Warner. These are the families we will have to turn to for funds to pay these extra charges.”
The Apopka Lacrosse Club paid $1,085 for use of the Northwest Recreation Complex during the spring season. However their Vice President Susie O’ Keefe is not as concerned with fees as she is with access to the fields.
“I’m not the enemy of Pop Warner,” she said. “I love football too. I came here for fairness of fields. Out of town teams get priority over us. All I’m asking is for fairness. We don’t get benefits like other leagues do, but we still pay to play.”
After the emotionally charged public comments concluded, it was clear the City Council wanted more time to consider their options.
We are co-mingling ideas here,” said Commissioner Kyle Becker. “The idea of money and the idea of scheduling equitable times of our resources. I would like to see a concerted effort to schedule Lacrosse, Pop Warner, Baseball…from a Lacrosse standpoint, I’m told they have never hosted a home game. And that’s a shame. I think we need to take some baby steps here. I don’t think this kind of blanket fee scheduling would be appropriate.”
“I was unaware of the fee schedule,” said Commissioner Diane Velazquez. “And I was unaware of how much you (youth sports) give to this community. I think we need to go back to the drawing board, because what is important is our kids. But to be fair to the City, to the taxpayers… we have to find a balance, a middle ground, and that’s what we have to work at. And today you are making us work for that”
“The value added from youth sports comes back to the city,” said Commissioner Doug Bankson. “This is a part of the fabric of the community. I think youth sports in Apopka are absolutely invaluable. I’m thinking about what are the solutions? Whether it be grants, or to go and appeal to community organizations or churches to get involved. Utilizing the (John Land) Trust. That was its initial purpose. I’m glad we’re getting past the bad part of that and getting to the good part. Some good changes are happening there that is going to start moving it forward.”
“Being a teacher for 40 years I understand the plight parents are up against, said Commissioner Billie Dean. “I wish we could do what they want, but it’s not the right time, because we already set the budget. In October we can come up with a workable and feasible mechanism to defray these fees. But you can’t have your cake and eat it too. We want to have low taxes, but we want the city to pay for everything too. I love kids; if I didn’t I wouldn’t have went into education, but you cant do everything. The City has to run on a budget. And I don’t want to be assassinated when I say this, but we can’t have all the things without taxes. I’m just being realistic.”
“We have 20 leagues that are paying fees already,” said Kilsheimer. “And I would dare say those parents feel just as strongly about the mission they are delivering to their children as the parents in Pop Warner do. And everybody who spoke here is absolutely right. The amount of time that parents and volunteers put into these leagues… it’s almost Herculean. And it’s inspiring. It’s really a remarkable story. But I will ask the question again… How are we going to set up the City for success in the future?”
Kilsheimer concluded the Council’s remarks with a balanced approach to future discussions about recreation fees.
“So where we are now is that two leagues get essentially free use of the fields. That worked for many, many years, and it was because Apopka was a small town and in a small town environment arrangements like that can be made and everyone kind of buys into it. It becomes ‘the way things are done’. But we’re looking at a city that is growing, and the decisions we make today about how we operate our recreation leagues are going to set a precedent for the people who come after us. I think the idea of baby steps is a good concept. The idea of going back to the drawing board is a worthy concept. But this is not a decision we can shy away from. We can’t not do it.
At the end of the discussion, the Council chose to revisit this issue at a Council/Staff workshop in the near future.