Gateway Sun

We’re still trying to make sense of Thursday’s 3-2 decision by the Board of Supervisors of the Gateway Services District to increase the soccer field rental rates by astronomical proportions.

Chairman Margaret Fineberg, Vice-Chairman Bill Guy and Supervisor Kathleen Flaherty all voted to raise the hourly rate at the Sherman Soccer Complex from $17 per hour to $48 per field, per hour when the lights are in use.

Supervisor Doug Banks and Supervisor Ed Tinkle were the two votes against the dramatic increase.

We have two questions.

The first question is how did the GSCDD arrive at $48 per field, per hour?

Traditionally, the GSCDD will look one place for guidance in these types of situations: Lee County.

The district has always used Lee County as a measuring stick in these cases. But they obviously didn’t do that here.

Because according to the Lee County External Fees and Charges Manual published in October 2017, renting one of Lee County’s soccer fields with lighting would only be $30 per hour. Making the GSCDD’s fields 60% more expensive than a county-owned field.

FYI: renting the GSCDD’s fields without lights is $25 per hour, while a Lee County field is $20. Breaking out the abacus, that means that Lee County can light a field for $10 per hour, while the GSCDD can do it for $23. Something’s wrong.

Keep in mind this is all per field. If the Gateway Soccer Association rents all 6 fields for 3 hours, that’s $48 for each of the 6 fields, for each of the three hours. It really adds up, and these programs don’t have a lot of extra money to begin with.

When the board asked district staff where the $48 figure came from, the board and audience were told that it had been calculated at some time in the past by an employee who was long gone. But nobody knew how the number was arrived at.

Which leads us to our second question.

How in the world do you vote in favor of tripling the usage rates on a youth sports program with the full knowledge that nobody in the room understands the numbers?

Another very important point is that when Gateway’s lawyer asked the district staff if they had verified that the public notice was printed in the News-Press in regards to the rate changes (which is required by law) the staff also responded that they had no idea if it was or not.

In my opinion, based on those two discoveries, which happened one right after the other at the December 7 meeting, the board should have authorized staff to rent the fields at the 2017 rates and re-visit this topic first thing next year when they had all the facts. But they didn’t. They went ahead and raised the rates anyway.

An important announcement will be coming on Monday that will help offset at least some of the damage done this week by the Board of Supervisors. You will know it when you see it, but beyond that there will be no additional politicizing of the positive events that will be made public on Monday.

In a completely separate action, we will be working to educate the politicians in Gateway in regards to the value and importance of the recreational youth sports programs to the children and parents who live in this community.

We will be making a direct push for the Board of Supervisors to lower the field usage rates at the Sherman Soccer Complex to exactly match Lee County.

That means $20 per hour, per field without lights. $30 per hour, per field with lights. Down from the GSCDD’s 2018 rates of $25 and $48, respectively.

As always, we will keep you informed of our progress.

break-line

I’ve exchanged emails and/or phone calls with the leaders of the Gateway Soccer Association and Gateway Flag Football League over the past few days.

The GFFL’s George Hrunka will attest that I told him that the leagues need to pay more than $17. I specifically said that if the district had come up with $25 an hour, we would have said “just pay it” and none of this would be necessary.

I’m not against a rate increase.

I’m against a ridiculous rate increase for reasons that nobody can even explain to the leagues and parents.

jetBlue Park has soccer fields right next door to the Gateway fields. And I’m pretty sure they’re considered Lee County fields, and fall under the Lee County rates. Maybe I’m wrong about that, but even if I am there’s all kinds of other fields across the county that are way cheaper than Gateway’s.

If I’m GSA president Mark Allison, guess what? I’m looking in to jetBlue and other county fields. Because the GSCDD has been nothing but rude to that guy who who has worked hard for years putting together a quality program.

Also, if you’re going to increase the field usage rates to market value or above, then this concept of charging families from Lehigh Acres more than a Gateway family needs to stop.

It was one thing when the rates were, admittedly, artificially low compared to the rest of SWFL. I support the argument that if Gateway residents are over-subsidizing the fields beyond what’s normal for this area, then families from Lehigh and Fort Myers should pay extra. At least enough to match what portion of a Gateway family’s GSCDD assessments go toward the fields.

But now that the district is charging the leagues much higher than the going rate (and even if they do end up lowering it to the Lee County rate) then the leagues are paying fair value to use the fields and should be able to attract kids from wherever they can without punishing non-residents.

The equation changed once the Supervisors upped the rates. And the non-resident charge needs to stop.

As mentioned above, we’ll be working to convince the GSCDD to mirror Lee County field usage rates at the Sherman Soccer Complex, as well as to drop the non-resident surcharge in order to provide maximum fairness to Gateway’s leagues who must compete with other area organizations.

Hopefully, the Board of Supervisors already understands the error they made this past Thursday, and will be eager to correct it at the first district board meeting in January 2018.

About Jeff Kuntz

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Editor of the Gateway Sun and owner of restaurant delivery service Florida Food Runner.

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