Gateway Sun

If the Board of Supervisors don’t “get it” after this article, they never will.

As you may recall, in December 2017 the board voted to increase the hourly usage rates at the Sherman Soccer Complex from $17/hour to $48/hour per field when lights are in use. This publication argued strongly that it was way too much, especially considering Lee County charges $30/hour under the lights at their fields. Keep in mind that there are 6 separate fields in Gateway so at $48/hour each the costs can add up quickly for the youth leagues.

NBC-2 caught wind of the situation and investigated. The following is from their December 13 news piece:

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Supervisors refused to comment, despite many questions on how they arrived at a number far more expensive than any other area fields.

Chairman Margaret Fineberg directed questions to the Gateway Services District, saying they would have a better answer as to the immediate impact of such a rate change.

Liaisons with the district did not return our calls.

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While the rest of the Supervisors managed to duck NBC-2, they couldn’t avoid Supervisor Doug Banks (who voted against the rate increase) at the GSCDD board meeting on January 18, 2018.

Banks brought up the field rental rate topic and pressed his fellow board members as to what the hell happened.

Said Banks: “We passed an agreement for the new lease agreements for the leagues. We had discussions around the lights and I think the board approved the increase in the lights, but I think it was also determined at that time that we weren’t sure where that dollar amount came from. And I thought there was an action to go back and look at other comparable rates for the lights. That hasn’t been done. I thought that was something we had looked at – just to confirm that the [cost] that we’re putting on the lights, as an increase, as an hourly rate, was in accordance with what other leagues and entities were charging. If that hasn’t been done, I think that’s viable.”

Public Works Manager Michael Tisch defended the sharp rate increase, responding, “We can present something to you. Just the sheer amount of money that we spend during the heavy months. The usage of the lights, I mean, our electricity bill is in excess of $4,000. So the amounts that they will pay with this fee is a drop in the bucket to even try to get back to what we incur per month.”

Vice-Chairman Bill Guy also responded directly to Banks, asking “Doug, don’t you think that once we start getting revenue from that source and find out how many participants there are versus the last year, the last two years, we’ll have a real good idea of whether we’re over-charging.”

M’kay.

The GSCDD’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget was debated at length, and voted on with unanimous approval by the Board of Supervisors in August 2017. So, not all that long ago.

Keep that fact in mind as you continue to read.

Gateway’s Parks & Recreation Department has three amenities. They are the Sherman Complex, the Fun Park and the Dog Park.

According to the approved budget, when you remove the Dog Park costs from the budget, the Parks & Rec Department is expected to cost Gateway residents $257,764 in FY2018.

Now there are some Fun Park expenses built in to that number, but it’s not separated very clearly so let’s just assume that full amount will be spent at the Sherman Soccer Complex and the Fun Park is $0. That way there’s no excuses from the empty-nesters and naysayers. And for those who might be curious, that amount does include $103,866 in landscaping.

In terms of revenue, the FY2018 budget states district will receive $36,000 from the youth sports leagues. Considering that FY2016 revenue was $31,000 at $17/hour, and the budget was voted on three months before the rate increase to $48/hour, it’s at least possible that $36,000 will be too low.

That said, let’s still use $36,000 – even knowing it could be a low number.

So giving all possible biases to favor to those within the GSCDD who want to jack up rates on the youth leagues, the Sherman Soccer Complex will need a subsidy of about $221,000 from Gateway residents in FY2018.

Sound high to you? Sound like an outrageous cost for a soccer complex? Just wait.

Back at the meeting, Supervisor Ed Tinkle offered his own insight regarding the field light costs, “Well I just did a calculation. If you take an average for ten months of $4,000 a month – that’s $40,000 and you have 800 equivalent benefiting families – there’s 50 bucks.”

So Tinkle did a calculation.

Well we can do our own arbitrary calculations too.

For example….

Taking the $257,764 expense for the entire year, divided by 6 fields, divided by 365 days per year, divided by 24 hours per day, and you get $4.90 per field per hour. So let’s charge that instead of $48 per field per hour? After-all, why should the youth leagues pay for the cost of fields that sit empty at 2:00am?

Or … Given that there are 6,200.74 EAUs in Gateway… the $221k subsidy would be $2.97 per month per household. Why not just increase it to $3.46 (to cover all $257k) and let all the leagues play for free?

We can twist the numbers for you all day, giving you any outcome you want. It’s no more or less meaningful than what Tinkle offered.

Responding to Tinkle’s calculation comment, Banks said, “I would just feel better if we knew what that number was and how we got to that number.”

But see, that’s the entire problem, Mr. Banks.

No matter how you want to work the numbers, no matter what calculation you use, the bottom line is that the fields cost $257k and the leagues will pay $36k according to the FY2018 approved budget.

And it doesn’t matter if you look up the financials from 2014, 2015, 2016, etc.

The Sherman Soccer Complex will never be a sound financial investment. It’s not supposed to be.

Sports fields are an investment in the community… an investment in our kids.

The Gateway Sun came out heavily in favor of matching the rates in Gateway to the rates charged by Lee County at $30/hour. Since the revenues will never offset the costs, we figured we might as well have a level playing field with Lee County so that the Gateway Soccer Association, Gateway Flag Football League and Elite Soccer Academy can charge a competitive rate to attract players.

Tisch called us out on that.

“I think the other thing, to compare our rates to Lee County, we’re a much smaller entity. They have a much larger base, tax-base, with which to draw to pay for this. So that’s truly an amenity that’s spread throughout the county,” Tisch told the Supervisors.

Tisch was saying that it’s okay to charge more in Gateway, because Lee County’s effective costs per field are reduced due to the scale of their operation.

One problem.

According to a Cost Benefit Analysis published by the Lee County Parks & Recreation Department in 2015, Veterans Park in Lehigh Acres generated $20,870 in revenue while the county spent $374,096 that year.

Meanwhile, the Estero Community Park brought in $20,311 and cost the taxpayers $380,242.

And those are the BEST two performing soccer field complexes in the Lee County system. The system that Tisch says Gateway cannot possibly expect to compete with.

Except… the Sherman Soccer Complex will cost less than $258,000 and brought in over $31,000 last year at the low rental rate.

Yes, you’re reading this correctly: the Sherman Complex costs less to operate, and brings in more revenue.

So what exactly is the problem here? Where did this dire need come from to snatch money from the kids?

Even the two members of the board who voted against the rate increase, Banks and Tinkle, now want to go out of their way to prove to the residents just how smart they are. They both say they want an exact cost calculation of light usage costs.

But remember how we said to keep the FY2018 budget in mind? Both of those men voted to approve that budget. So they should already know about the $257k in expenses. They already know about the projected $36k in revenues. Because it was in the budget.

So Banks and Tinkle already know the numbers suck. They don’t need district staff to come up with new ways to tell them that. All they need to do is visit the GSCDD website, pull up the budget THEY VOTED TO APPROVE, and look it up again.

Then there’s Ambassador Kathleen Flaherty who, during the 2016 election campaign, walked among the families at the Sherman Soccer Complex shaking hands and seeking your vote by telling you how much she loved the kids and how she treasured the youth leagues in Gateway. But when she could have done something to help she instead chose to vote along with Fineberg and Guy to jack up the field usage rates to unprecedented levels and put extreme pressure on the GSA and GFFL, threatening their long-term survival. You put her in office based on her promises to build baseball fields and look out for the amenities, and she has broken those promises she made to you during the campaign.

And I haven’t forgotten about Chairman Fineberg and Vice-Chairman Guy. Both were Supervisors on March 17, 2016, and both voted in favor of GSCDD Resolution 2016-07 which reads:

RESOLUTION NUMBER 2016-07

WHEREAS, the Gateway Services CDD has owned and operated the Sherman Soccer Complex for many years; and

WHEREAS, thousands of youth have participated and had good life building experiences; and

WHEREAS, there has been conversation leading some to believe that this Board has made unreasonable demands on the sponsor of the soccer league which could lead to its dissolution; and

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THIS BOARD DETERMINES THAT SOCCER WILL STAY AT THE SHERMAN SOCCER COMPLEX, AND THAT NO FINANCIAL REPORTS ARE NECESSARY OF THE SPONSOR AND THAT NO FURTHER DEMANDS OR CONVERSATION ARE NECESSARY TO IMPLEMENT THIS RESOLUTION; DULY PASSED AND ADOPTED THIS 18TH DAY OF March, 2016.

GATEWAY SERVICES COMMUNITY
DEVELOPMENT DISTRICT

Remember that day, Margaret? And Bill? Hopefully you do now.

So here’s the information everyone at the GSCDD failed to look up before raiding the bank accounts of the youth leagues:

https://www.leegov.com/parks/about/cba – Lee County Parks & Rec 2015 Cost Benefit Analysis. Estero page 21. Veteran’s page 22.

https://www.leegov.com/countymanager/Documents/Fees%20Manuals/External_Fee_Manual.pdf – Lee County External Fees Manual, showing the $30/hour under the lights for soccer on page 135.

From this day forward if our politicians want to gouge the youth sports leagues and run them out of Gateway, they no longer have any excuses of ignorance or political cover from the staff.

The numbers are all in Lee County and GSCDD budgets.

No more telling NBC-2 reporters “How should I know what I voted to approve! Call the staff and ask them!” like Fineberg did.

(As the Chairman, Fineberg is the leader of the GSCDD. It really showed there, didn’t it?)

I am asking the Board of Supervisors to quit messing with the leagues. I’m not saying go back to $17/hour. Once again, I’m saying match Lee County at $30/hour because it’s the closest valid comparison that we have.

It’s the easiest and fairest solution for everybody. And it will give the leagues a chance to continue to play in Gateway for years to come.

 

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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