BW town council settles on park fees for teams

BLYTHEWOOD – Blythewood’s hourly fees to use Doko Park are coming down, but not enough for some town council members.

On Monday night, after a proposed $50 per hour fee for ball teams to use the fields in the park, Councilman Rich McKenrick made the motion to reduce that rate to $25. Council voted 3-2 in favor of the measure.

But not until after a half hour of discussion about the possibilities of the $50 per hour rate which would become effective Jan. 1, 2023. Council also voted to waive those hourly fees from Aug.1 through Dec. 31.

After July 31, waiving those fees will cost the town about $19,200 of income, said Town Administrator Carroll Williamson. But that ‘cost’ to the Town presumes the Town could actually collect $50 per hour.

Under that premise, the Blythewood Soccer Club would see $12,800 in fees waived, while the Blythewood Bengals would see $6,400 in fees waived. 

Williamson said, however, that, “Fifty dollars [per hour] seems to be much higher than the surrounding fields to rent.”

But the council’s motion came with a catch for the Bengals.

The Town plans to retroactively bill the Blythewood Bengals between June 1 and July 31, even though they had not previously paid an hourly rate during that span.

Council members said the Blythewood Bengals would owe about $2,400 retroactively in unpaid fees between June 1 and July 31. Blythewood Soccer did not use the fields during that time so they would not be charged.

Councilman Donald Brock, who voted against the $25 per hour motion, thought it wasn’t fair to compare the Blythewood Bengals and Blythewood Soccer fees and benefits.

Brock noted that the $11,500 in hospitality funds the Blythewood Bengals are slated to receive this year from the Town dwarfs the $1,000 from the Town’s general fund that Blythewood Soccer will receive from the Town.

“If you want to talk about equality, we’re not there,” he said. Brock also opposed retroactively billing the Bengals.

Franklin shrugged off Brock’s hospitality fee argument, noting that both organizations will benefit from free field usage between Aug. 1 and Dec. 31.

“That’s the same as writing them a $12,800 check, correct?” the mayor said. “I just want to make it clear to Councilman Brock that is your apples to apples comparison.”

Brock countered that the $12,800 is not a check, but an in-kind figure, and applies only to soccer. He reminded Franklin that the Bengals football waiver stood at $6,400 and that they get an additional actual $11,500 in cash (hospitality tax funds) from the Town that soccer is not getting.

The total benefit applied to Bengals football would be $17,900 ($11,500 cash plus $6,400 in-kind).while soccer would be receiving $13,800 ($1,000 in cash and $12,800 in-kind.) The in-kind amounts are based on the presumption of collecting a rental fee of $50 per hour from the teams.

“It’s not apples to apples,” Brock said.

Brock also thought twenty-five dollars is excessive.

“If we’re going to waive fees, we should waive fees through the end of the year. Let’s waive fees effective June 1,” Brock said.

Councilman Sloan Griffin, who also opposed McKerick’s motion for the $25 fee, thought it was excessive. He pointed out that Richland County charges only $10 an hour (for non-profits.).

“Changing things midstream will cause financial hardship. That financial hardship will be turned over to the parents who pay [registration fees],” Griffin said. “Moving forward my cost estimate is $10 an hour.”

Frank Cahoon, president of the Blythewood Soccer Club, estimated the town’s increase would translate to an additional $12.71 per player to register.

Mayor Bryan Franklin and Councilmen Eddie Baughman and McKenrick, however, were unwilling to come down below $25 an hour, nor were they willing to waive unpaid retroactive fees between June 1 and July 31.

“I think [the] motion is very fair since we’re talking about waiving fees for the remainder of this

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year,” said Franklin. “Nobody would pay the fees this year. These fees would take effect in 2023.”

Councilman Rich McKenrick, who made the original motion to charge the$25 fee and to waive the fees until the end of the year, said it’s the best solution considering the circumstances.

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