The Gateway Services Community Development District has made it known that they plan to re-evaluate how much they charge the Gateway Soccer Association, Gateway Flag Football League, Elite Soccer Academy and others to use the fields at the Sherman Soccer Complex.

The consensus seems to be that field usage rates will rise.

At the district meeting on August 3, Vice-Chairman Bill Guy sounded warning alarms and made it clear there will be no shenanigans that would result in Gateway losing any of the youth sports programs.

Said Guy: “There was a back-door attempt a couple of years ago to discontinue soccer at the Sherman Soccer Complex. And the board in its wisdom voted to continue soccer for our youth. And the Resolution indicated that it was very important that we continue soccer.”

Guy was referring to GSCDD Resolution 2016-07, for those interested.

“Now I want to make sure that this is not a back-door attempt to raise rates so high that we will no longer have soccer at our complex,” added Guy.

The GSCDD staff will be making a set of rate proposals and presenting them to the board at the next district meeting on August 17.

From there, the district will announce a public hearing to allow anyone who would like to comment on the field usage rates to be heard.

The board voted 3-1 on August 3 in favor of leaving the current rates in place for the fall soccer and flag football seasons. Chairman Margaret Fineberg, Vice-Chairman Guy and Supervisor Kathleen Flaherty voted in favor of freezing rates for the fall seasons for the youth leagues, while Supervisor Ed Tinkle voted against that idea – and gave signals in the meeting that he wanted to raise rates as soon as possible.

Based on comments made by the board members at the August 3 meeting, any rate changes would take effect January 1, 2018.

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All five of the Supervisors have been open to the idea of raising rates at the Sherman Soccer Complex next year.

Supervisor Doug Banks, who was not at the August 3 meeting, had previously called on district staff to try and figure out just how much the using the fields was worth, exactly.

You’d think they’d already know that. And based on what I’ve observed, district staff does have that information available – however, the figures are spread across several different budgets. They need to factor in everything from landscaping costs to field lighting, even down to payroll taxes on staff hours spent working on issues related to the Sherman Soccer Complex.

So it’s not as if they can push a button and have that information immediately compiled. However, district staff is going to get the exact figure and inform the board and the public at the next meeting.

Now on to Tinkle, and his vote opposing the rate freeze.

Tinkle has made it clear to me in the past that he believes the fields are a public asset and need to be subsidized by all Gateway residents. There’s no way the full cost of maintaining the fields could ever be passed on to the youth leagues, according to Tinkle.

That said, the positions Tinkle took at the August 3 meeting were alarming enough that I picked up the phone and asked him what he was trying to accomplish.

Tinkle explained that it’s crucial the district calculate exactly how much the soccer fields cost each Gateway household in assessments. And the reason, says Tinkle, is because he wants the GSCDD to figure out how much more a Gateway family who has a child playing flag football is effectively paying when compared to a family from Lehigh Acres or Fort Myers who has a child in the GFFL.

Basically what Tinkle is saying is that if it turns out a Gateway family is paying $30 in district assessments to operate the Sherman Soccer Complex, then a family from outside Gateway should pay an extra $15 per soccer or flag football season directly to the district – in order to make sure that a Gateway family isn’t paying more than a family from outside the community to play in a Gateway youth league.

So if the GSA sets their spring season rate at $100, a family from Gateway would pay $100 while a Lehigh family would pay $115.

If that’s Tinkle’s intent then it’s an easy concept to support.

My fear is that the assessment cost per Gateway family might actually be $50 or $60, and then the leagues will have to charge perhaps $30 more per spring and fall season, and they’ll lose many outside players.

The Gateway-based programs need kids from Fort Myers and Lehigh to be successful. That’s a fact.

So while Tinkle’s concept makes total sense and seems fair to district residents, nobody will benefit if the cost increase is so high that parents choose to put their kids in competing programs outside Gateway.

Hopefully a happy medium can be found.

It was nice to see that Guy is still determined to make sure the board doesn’t do anything crazy when it comes to the kids playing sports.

Notably, it was Guy who led the charge to convince the Board of Supervisors from a few years ago to unequivocally support youth sports in Gateway.

But the good news is that the three Supervisors who have taken seats on the board since the anti-soccer crusade from the past … have all proven they’re supportive of the youth leagues.

Banks has been a volunteer coach in the GFFL, Tinkle has made multiple comments in support of upgrading the field lighting and keeping the leagues in business, and Flaherty campaigned for baseball fields to be built and has so-far demonstrated nothing but support for sports in Gateway.

Fineberg, who was on the board with Guy during the events Guy referenced, strongly supported Guy’s efforts at the time and has championed the youth leagues as well.

My point is that even though it certainly seems like field usage rates are going up, all five of the current Supervisors want the sports leagues to operate and thrive in Gateway.

So unlike a few years ago, there’s really nothing to be worried about on a large scale.

If your kids participate in programs at the Sherman Soccer Complex your league fees will almost certainly rise next year, but the GSCDD is giving every indication that goal is to be fair to all Gateway residents who are sharing the costs to operate the fields – not to punish the leagues.

Bottom line: 1) The entire (current) GSCDD board supports youth sports; 2) they’re making an effort to figure out how much field usage in Gateway is worth; 3) they want to charge all leagues accordingly; and 4) Tinkle wants to make sure outside families effectively pay the same rate as a Gateway family when assessments are factored in.

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

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