Well over 150 people spoke up, everyone from teens telling city councillors the city should pay baseball players for keeping the city’s diamonds clean, to a single mother testifying about skipping her own meals to pay for sports costs for her boys, to volunteers with decades of organizing under their belts. About a third of Toronto’s city council members gathered in council chambers on April 3 to hear about the impact new fees for field times would have on the city’s volunteer youth sports leagues.
The end result of that meeting, along with other consultation and lobbying over the past month, since the first bills were sent out to non-profit leagues, is a waiving of the fees for the 2012 year, and a promise from council to consult with the leagues before implementing fees for 2013 which will be set this year.
That will allow plenty of time for leagues to alter their pricing structure and let parents plan ahead for the increased costs.
“This is a victory for the kids of the city and the volunteers that work year-round,” said Ward 31 councillor Janet Davis, one of five city councillors that have been key in bringing the fees to the attention of the rest of council.
Davis said she was pleased Mayor Rob Ford had agreed to the cancellation of this year’s fees ahead of the April 10 council vote on the matter. Ford, who coaches youth football, understood the perspective of the organizations affected by the unexpected fees, she said. The council vote was unanimous.
Ward 32 councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon said she was also pleased at the outcome of the council debate on April 10.
“It was great to see that council could work together,” she said. “We have sports leagues all over the city. There’s not one ward that’s not affected.”
East Toronto Baseball president David Breech said he was glad to see the city waive the fees for this year, but believes the fees shouldn’t be put in place next year or any year after that either.
“The idea of assessing a fee to these volunteer agencies is not rational thinking,” he said.
Although he understands there is a cost involved in the fields for the city, the group of thousands of volunteers serving tens of thousands of youth “not only provides the programming, but also makes the facilities safe and useable.”
The plan this year had been to add the fees with no increase to the Parks, Forestry and Recreation Department’s budget, so the question of field maintenance is one that is understandably one that has been repeated from several corners. That will be a major issue when consultation on fees for coming years are discussed, as the many volunteers at the April 3 town hall meeting and previous meetings made abundantly clear.
“The issue is paying a fee for facilities that are never serviced by the city,” said Breech.
McMahon agreed, saying “the city needs to step up to the plate. If you’re expecting a league to pay for fields, the city’s going to have to deliver on maintenance.”
One of the positive results of the way the fees were implemented without notice was how well-organized all the various affected groups became. Breech said he suspected the city staff that first proposed the fees likely didn’t expect such a diverse group of volunteer organizations to present a unified front crossing political, recreational and socio-economic boundaries.
“This crisis created a real positive attribute for the future,” he said.
Davis said the situation helped make clear that volunteers, small business, families and the city are all necessary to make affordable, accessible sports opportunities available to youth.
“I think this episode really woke up the administration at City Hall to the fact that we are partners with the sports community,” she said.