City Tentatively Approves $10 Fee For Athletic Field Use, Replaces Library Fees

The city gives and the city takes away. The City Commission this week unanimously voted to replace 10-cents-a-day late fees for library books, and also to begin charging youth athletic organizations $10 per child per season for sports participation on city fields, beginning in January. They will formally vote on the matters as part of their annual budget process later this month.

“I’ve been here 45 years, and we’ve never had to do this before,” Lakeland Parks and Recreation Director Bob Donahay said of the youth sports fee. “The cost of fertilizers, (agriculture and horticulture) chemicals, pesticides has gone crazy. 100% increase in fertilizer over the last year. Our chemicals are rising constantly, and it’s something we can’t control. We’ve resisted it for years.”

Donahay said they compared fees with other counties and found that Plant City is charging $30 per child and Polk County is charging $10 per child. Some nearby cities charge $4 per child.

View the full proposed fee schedule here or at the end of this article.

“We’re going to expand, we’re going to add population, and if we want our athletic fields to stay nice we really don’t have a choice,” said Donahay, noting that their youth soccer league has more than 2,000 children participating. Donahay also bragged that Lakeland has some of the nicest playing fields in the county.

Alicia James, president of Swan City Soccer Club, said she didn’t think the new $10 fee would have much of an impact on their families.

“This fee won’t go into place until January and we were already paying a flat base fee, so the change isn’t going to affect our budget very much, if any, and if it does, since we’re not for profit, we really rely heavily on sponsors and donations and contributions,” James said. “That’s probably where we’ll make up any money if we need to.”

She said there are two levels of players with their club – recreational and competitive leagues.

The recreational league, which is strictly for fun with volunteer coaches, plays every Saturday and practices once a week. They pay about $110 to $115 per player for fall and spring games. The competitive leagues  have paid coaches and travel throughout Florida and in the Southeast for tournaments. Their fees range from $900 to several thousand dollars, depending on the players’ age and how competitive the team is.

Mayor Bill Mutz said it was the right move, but also wanted to make sure children in need could continue to play.

“I think that’s a reasonable request,” Mutz said. “We just encourage that that is something that citizens will help to support because of the great need that we have to offset increasing costs and the high usability by the athletes.”

Donahay said they are going to make sure everyone can play.

“We want more children on our fields, not less, so if there is a problem there, we’re going to figure out how to solve it together,” Donahay said. “We’re going to make sure that all children are on our athletic fields or inside our gymnasiums or inside our libraries and not to exclude anyone. But trust me, we’ll go the extra mile in that.”

The city is also planning to increase tennis camp fees from to $50, an increase of $15 for beginners and $10 for intermediate and advanced.

Facility rentals are increasing from between $50 for rooms at the Coleman Bush and Lake Crago Park buildings to $100 for facilities at Lake Mirror and other rooms at Coleman Bush.  The most expensive room to rent in the city is the Lake Crago Park recreation complex’s large room  for Friday and  Saturday events, with a charge of $2,500. But this is actually a decrease of $544.

Donahay said they look at their rates twice a year. For those facilities not being used as much or in comparing comparable facilities, they dropped the price.

“We want people to use our facilities and have an affordable option,” Donahay said.

At least one fee is being eliminated – library late fees. However, borrowers who keep a book for more than 30 days will be charged the cost of the book the next time they check out library materials.

“Collecting 10 cents a day is archaic,” said Donahay. “It serves as a deterrent from them coming in, going to library to on a daily basis.”

Donahay said his staff looked at other nearby library systems, including Lake Wales, Mulberry, Hillsborough County, Sarasota, Manatee, Pasco, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach counties and they are all eliminating the 10-cents-a-day fee. He added that if the book is not returned in 30 days, the borrower or their parent will be charged for the price of the book.

“I will also say this was really a national movement that’s happening in a lot of libraries,” said City Manager Shawn Sherrouse. “A lot of library systems are going to this practice because the data is showing that it is effective, it’s more cost effective. It’s more efficient. And it actually encourages folks to, even if they’re late to bring it back sooner than they might if they can’t, maybe, pay that immediately.”

The late-fee elimination will begin Oct. 1, once formally approved during the city’s budget process this month.

Kimberly C. Moore is an award-winning reporter and a Lakeland native.  She can be reached at [email protected] or 863-272-9250.

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