Letter: Councilor should have done her homework

To the editor: 

I was at the March 4th town council meeting.  One agenda item was the consideration of East Bay Rowing to extend their agreement to use the facilities at Walkers farm for their rowing club.  They provide adult and youth rowing, lessons and competitive teams.  Overall, there was a lot of support from the town councilors (the extension passed 4-1) and town officials, as well as the audience.

One councilor, Ann Strong, however – was the exception.  She came across with snarky attack that seemed quite personal.  Ms. Strong lives on the Cove and vehemently opposed the use of Walkers Farm and the Cove by East Bay Rowing when it was originally proposed. At the meeting on the 4th, she made claims that EBR’s boats had strayed from their agreed upon area of operation and that she was nearly hit by them while making her frequent swims from her house.  She said she had photos of the boats in the incorrect area – but failed to provide them.  She also claimed, in a snarling tone – that the East Bay Rowing Club is a Business and had no right making profits on town land.  Deb Sullivan, president of EBR responded calmly that their use of Walkers Farm was akin to East Bay Lacrosse or Soccer or other sports organizations using town land.  Ms. Strong replied that EBR was getting a sweet deal at only $10 per participant for using the facility and claimed the other sports organizations paid much more.  Peter DeAngelis correctly noted that all sports organizations in town pay a $10 fee per participant.  Then Ms. Strong stated then that all of these fees should be higher.  Now I read in last week’s Times that this has been a concern of hers all along.  I do not believe this.

I have a son that is going to start rowing this Spring.  I do know that EBR is providing a wonderful, wholesome activity on the water.  I know Mr. and Mrs Sullivan spend considerable time organizing and coaching.  Their fees per season are in the $200-$300 range.  Soccer’s fees are approaching $1000 for competitive programs.  Pop Warner is pushing $200. Baseball is in the $100 range and Lacrosse the $250 range.  I have been personally involved in many of these organizations.  I just recently stepped down as treasurer of Pop Warner.  That “business” essentially breaks even every year. The past two years they have had a net loss.  They have no employees.  Soccer and Lacrosse do have employees – as they are much larger organizations.  All of these organizations are 501c3 non profit corporations.  They are certainly businesses – but they are deemed non profit by the Internal Revenue Service. If someone takes home a salary this is part of the submittal to the IRS and it is reviewed in making the non profit determination.   No one in these organizations is making any substantial amount of money – and more often than not – they expend more than they make…in extra hours and personal contributions.

If you take the $10 fee charged by the town, Soccer probably gives on the order of $10,000 to $15,000, Lacrosse ($5000), Baseball ($7500 to $10000), Football ($1500), EBR ($750) and I am sure there are other sports that pay.  I do not believe indoor sports pay – but they most likely pay fees for janitors, etc.  All told, the town sees in the vicinity of $25,000 from these non profit groups.  This is NOT meant as payback for their enormous profit making nor as fee for use – with the proceeds covering other expenses in town…like books or salaries.  This was meant as a way to improve the fields and outdoor facilities around town and to supplement the DPW budget.  The DPW mows the lawns, etc as part of normal operations.  These extra fees cover things like moving goals, lining fields, seeding, etc. These are services above and beyond what a unused park buffer might see.   Many organizations – in particular – baseball – supplement DPW work with volunteer work of their own in field maintenance.. I know from personal experience – volunteers move goals and equipment and pick up trash.  In one case – a group helped create an athletic field on Sowams road.

Many groups pay additional fees over and above field fees.  Pop Warner pays for use of the HS field and to have a custodian there during game days.  They also pay for the use of indoor school facilities – for much the same reasons.  But again – they are paying for a specific service to the town – not to hit their bottom line or offset other town expenses.

The facilities EBR uses do not receive any additional services as far as I know.  The muddy lawn where they store their boat is still a muddy lawn.  The old ramp they walk down to launch their boats is still cracked and worn.

I do not believe the “field fees” as they are typically called – should be raised.  If there is any attempt at raising them – I think it should be linked with the total fees being segregated into a distinct account with detailed accounting.  As noted – the fees are supposed to fund maintenance that accrues back to the facilities that the sports organizations use.  They are not supposed to be a “profit” center for the town or a punitive fee for organizations that one town councilor thinks makes too much money and that uses a facility close to her home.

I feel Ms. Strong was wildly out of line both in the content and tenor of her attacks.  I believe she is letting her personal distaste for the use of her Cove get in the way of doing her job as a councilor.  I also believe that if you are going to attack someone – at least do your homework and bring your damning evidence.  She did not know what any sport paid for field fees and I think she misunderstands why they are charged.  Her contention that this was a concern all along is a smoke screen.  If she has proof EBR’s boats strayed out of their agreed upon area of operation – then produce it.  But I would remind her – the Cove is not hers nor is it for the exclusive use of the abutting property owners or one specific user group.  Depending on where she swims – she could be in the midst of turtles, kayakers, crabbers, power boats towing water skiiers or tubes or jet skis.  We all have to share the cove – and be civil about it.

As I noted at the first meeting where EBR applied for their agreement:  Despite what we think – the Cove is probably under used and not over used.  Rowing should not squeeze out tubing or kayaking or swimming or crabbing – but the inverse is also true.  Certain activities (power boating mostly) require a higher tide.  The others generally do not. Pass the cove most days throughout most of the daylight hours…and you will see it empty.  Lets grow up and learn to share.

Dave Bonney
Barrington

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