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Adult teams call foul on price hike to play on Buffalo fields

It is going to cost twice as much for adult teams to play on Buffalo’s fields and diamonds this summer, and that is not going over well with some of the players.

"In the middle of the night without warning, the city doubled the fees," said Mike D’Amico, who runs the adult softball, kickball, soccer and coed touch football leagues. "We’re disappointed the city never told anyone. That’s not good governance."

The city raised the rental fee to use the parks to $200, up from $100, and said it posted the notice last August. The increase is not just for summer sports but for all adult sports teams that use the city's parks, said Andrew R. Rabb, deputy commissioner of the Department of Public Works, Parks & Streets Parks.

The increase amounts to about an extra $10 per player on each team for a 12-week season, Rabb said. The extra money will help offset costs associated with more activities in the city's parks.

But the increase seems to be taking the fun out of the game, D’Amico said. The various summer leagues are scheduled to start play the second week in May. The higher fees have some of the teams questioning whether they will play, D’Amico said.

"We’re not-for-profit. We do this just to have something fun to do," said D’Amico, who has run the adult softball league since 1996.

Last year, there were 96 softball teams, but 12 of those have left because of the increased fees, D’Amico said. He added that 32 kickball teams played last year, but 10 have not signed up yet for this season. And there are eight soccer teams, but four of them have not registered yet – all because of the fee increase, D'Amico said.

City officials make these points:

  • The rental fee for adult leagues has not increased in more than 20 years;
  • The increase does not affect youth leagues, which do not pay rental fees to the city; and
  • The fee increase still leaves city rates cheaper than those charged by nearby suburbs.

The suburban teams may pay more money, but their parks are well-maintained and well-groomed, said Kevin Coia, a longtime player on most of the adult leagues in the city.

In Buffalo, the diamonds are not taken care of, except for the ones in the Olmsted parks, he said. The league teams play their sports at both city and Olmsted parks, but if rain comes and stops early in the day, the diamonds at Olmsted parks are fixed, raked and chalked in time for 5:30 or 6 p.m. games, Coia said.

The other parks that the city maintains are not ready in time, causing rainouts because teams can't use the diamond, he said.

He pointed to Cazenovia and Houghton parks, which are about three minutes apart in South Buffalo, as examples. If the rain stops in the morning, Cazenovia – an Olmsted park – is ready for play by evening while Houghton – maintained by the city – won't be, he said.

"How can one park be beautiful and ready and another be in total shambles?" Coia asked.

"A lot of people are upset," he added. "If they're going to pay for more, they want to know what they're getting out of it. Why are they paying the extra money? "

Olmsted parks are city parks, and there is city staff assigned to Olmsted that maintain all of the diamonds and fields, Rabb said. However, there is some truth about the conditions of some parks, he added. Still, that largely depends on the age and condition of the park. What's more, Rabb said, his office does not cancel games. Instead, his staff contacts league representatives and reports on the conditions of fields and diamonds. Ultimately, the decision is up to the leagues.

"I would argue that our diamonds and fields are just as good as the surrounding suburbs' diamonds. Some diamonds are older and have more problems than others. Some are on lower ground and are wetter. It all has to do with location. It might take us longer to get an older diamond playable than a diamond constructed 10 years ago with proper drainage," Rabb said. "The amount of maintenance and pliability is not constant throughout all of our diamonds because of specific site restrictions, not because we're not putting in constant levels of maintenance."

The amount of revenue that the Parks Department collects from fees still does not cover the cost of maintenance citywide,  Rabb said.

What’s more troubling than paying more money, D'Amico said, is how the city went about instituting the fee increase.

But administration officials say the information has been posted on the city’s website since last August, letting people know the new fees would take effect.

"So that way we weren’t penalizing the summer and fall leagues" that played last season, Rabb said.

"It’s not like we were hiding anything," he said. "If there’s a positive side, we have so much stuff going on in the parks. We have so many activities taking place. We’ve been launching more and more things. We have a whole lot of stuff."

The fee increase will balance the costs associated with having those additional activities at the park, he said.

D’Amico said he and players from the various teams are on the agenda for the Common Council’s May 9 Finance Committee meeting to get more information about the fee increase.

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