Council weighs waiving rec fee

Published 1:03 am Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Two people showed up at a public hearing Monday to put in their two cents’ worth regarding Washington’s proposed budget for the 2011-2012 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Russell Morgan, a member of the city’s Recreation Advisory Committee, proposed the city waive its $30 per person fee imposed on each participant in youth sports leagues that use city-owned sports facilities. Under Morgan’s proposal, endorsed by the committee, the facilities use fee for a youth living in Washington Electric Utilities’ service area would be waived.

Morgan said the fee imposes a hardship on some families, resulting in some children not being able to play organized youth sports.

Under the proposal, the waiving of the fees would cost the city about $40,000, Morgan said.

“To a family who’s got two or three kids who want to play two, three sports, you’re talking about a hardship cost,” Morgan said.

Morgan’s proposal generated lengthy debate by council members. At the heart of the debate was balancing the need to use the revenue generated by the fees to help pay for maintaining the sports facilities with providing more affordable opportunities for youth to play organized sports.

Some council members indicated they have no problem with waiving the fee.

“I don’t think the children should be held hostage … if their parents can’t afford to pay,” Councilman Ed Moultrie said.

Other council members expressed concern that eliminating the fees would result in less money to maintain the sports facilities, noting that the city has made other concessions regarding similar fees in the past.

“The only question I have is when are we going to stop?” Mayor Pro Tempore Bobby Roberson said. “I don’t see any recommendation on where we are going to get the money to do this kind of stuff.”

Roberson and Councilman Doug Mercer indicated their opposition to waiving the fee if that meant losing revenue for maintaining the sports facilities.

“My question is where are we going to get the money (to help pay for that maintenance if the facilities use fee is waived)?” Roberson asked.

Mayor Archie Jennings said he favors eliminating the fee, adding that doing so would result in more children playing organized sports.

“They’ll still have a league fee to cover some of their costs, but the city fee would be set aside,” he said. “The financial premise is the fact that either through taxes or through utility fees they essentially are already paying this fee.”

Councilman Gil Davis said he doesn’t believe waiving the fee will result in significantly more children participating in organized sports, but doing so would result in the city’s sports facilities deteriorating from decreased maintenance.

The council did not make a decision on the matter, but asked Pete Connet, interim city manager, to look for solutions to the issue, including tweaking the proposed budget to replace the revenue that would be lost by waiving the fee and report back to the council. The needed revenue could be realized by eliminating or postponing other items in the proposed budget.

The council plans to use that information in making a decision about waiving the fee when it meets June 6.
Carolyn Harding, a former Beaufort County commissioner, made it clear she has an issue with the proposed budget’s call for a 5-percent decrease in in-town residential electric rates. Harding said she considers that proposal unfair to Washington Electric Utilities customers who live outside the city.

“I am wondering why … county residents outside the city should not be included in this 5-percent reduction in the rates?” Harding said.

“And another comment about using Washington utilities for years; we have helped support your budget through this annual transfer of millions from your profit from your electric utilities, which has been transferred to the general fund,” Harding said.

“And if stopping, eating at local restaurants and so forth is costing the city additional expenses, I’m sure I can do more spending in New Bern, Greenville and so forth instead of making a concerted effort to support local businesses,” Harding said.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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