By Kim Siebert MacPhail
At their meeting on August 5, the Selectmen were asked to set a fee schedule for Sabourin Field, the new synthetic turf facility that is scheduled to come online in September, and to also consider a per player/per sport user fee for Recreation, Babe Ruth, Bedford Youth Lacrosse and other town athletic programs. To the first request, the Selectmen agreed to institute fees ranging from $75-$125/hour for use or Sabourin Field; institution of a per player/per sport user fee was postponed until July 1, 2014, due to what was characterized as a continuation of substandard quality of the fields and field maintenance.
At the August 5 meeting, Selectman Mike Rosenberg provided some background about both types of fees under consideration, saying that fees became a part of the funding equation for Sabourin Field prior to the 2013 Annual Town Meeting.
“The issue was how to demonstrate that there could be a revenue stream to offset costs inherent in putting in this field. Advocates [of the turf field] knew this would be important to the support of the Selectmen, the Finance Committee and, indeed, Town Meeting,” Rosenberg reminded those at the meeting.
“There were two sources of revenue identified: one was the direct rental of the new field itself,” Rosenberg continued. “The other was a participation fee for field maintenance charged to those that are using the [town] fields at no [rental] cost. According to my surveys, this is already done in most neighboring towns—I surveyed over 20 communities and over 80% of them are charging anywhere from $10 to $45 per person.”
Rosenberg went on to say that it has been assumed that the addition of the synthetic turf field to the town’s field inventory would improve the condition of all the fields because it will mean that grass fields aren’t over-taxed. Additionally, DPW grounds crew should have more time to devote on the other fields now that the football field requires little maintenance.
However, several residents in attendance at the meeting who are active in youth sports reported to the Selectmen that field conditions have not yet improved, saying that levying per player/per person participation fees at this point would be inappropriate and would also raise expectations about field quality and maintenance.
Scott Venuti of Karen Drive responded to Rosenberg’s assessment, “You implied that we should be seeing some improvement in the field conditions. [Sabourin Field] and the track were shut down in, I believe, a May timeframe—that should have been the time period when the grounds crews were freed up with a little bit more time to pay attention to the fields.
“This year in particular—and I’d say every year for the last few years—we’ve seen worsening conditions of the fields,” Venuti continued. “We all have kids that play on summer travel teams—we’ve had towns come that have actually tried to refuse to play the game because the grass was too long. We’ve had multiple occasions where we’ve mowed the fields ourselves. We have had stands where the weeds come up through the stands and fans won’t even sit there because they’re afraid they’re going to get ticks.
“The field conditions are inferior to other towns. They’re not lined, there’s no trash service. It’s not a good situation. We go to Concord—that’s one of the towns with user fees—there’s no trash and perfect fields. . . . There’s a lot of issues with the fields in Bedford and we haven’t seen those improve,” Venutti concluded. “These problems should be solvable.”
“It seems like most other communities have solved them,” agreed Rosenberg.
Considering this input and moving toward a decision, Selectman Caroline Fedele said she was uncomfortable lumping in approval of synthetic turf fees with per player participation fees.
“By putting them together I think there are some assumptions being made that everybody who plays sports, everybody who touches those fields, everybody who’s in town will directly benefit from the turf field. I would like to separate the two.
“I agree that eventually we should be able to charge user fees,” Fedele continued. “But it’s kind of like the cart before the horse: We need to get these fields to the proper condition so that it would be acceptable to charge a fee and then determine what the expectations are. If we don’t [do this in correct order] we’re setting ourselves up for failure, controversy and pushback.
“I would be in favor of putting some clear guidelines around what we’re talking about when we say the fields will be maintained, so that we’re able to communicate effectively: ‘with this money, we will do x, y, and z’ and then follow through on it,” Fedele concluded.
Following some additional discussion, the Selectmen approved the synthetic turf fees for outside groups to start as soon as the field is opened. However, per person/per sport participation fees and fees for the rental of grass fields will not start until July 1, 2014, although the Selectmen will revisit the matter beforehand to ensure that the fields are fee-worthy. An action plan for improvement will be discussed with the Public Works Department.