Barrington sports leagues protest new fees, residents ask for artificial turf

Council expected to vote on field fees on March 4

By Josh Bickford
Posted 2/8/19

Two hours of testimony from local sports league officials and private residents left Barrington Town Council member Steven Boyajian feeling "disappointed."

Mr. Boyajian, who serves as the council …

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Barrington sports leagues protest new fees, residents ask for artificial turf

Council expected to vote on field fees on March 4

Posted

For more than two hours on Wednesday night, Barrington residents, youth league organizers and town leaders talked about field fees, athletic facilities, artificial turf and the future of sports in Barrington. They covered most topics associated with recreational sports in town.

They did not decide anything, vote on anything or come to any conclusions, and at the end, one town councilor doubted whether they had accomplished anything.

In his closing remarks, Barrington Town Councilor Steven Boyajian said he was “disappointed” by what he had heard from the public, that no one had put forth specific or actionable ideas. He said no one said anything that the town didn’t already know.

Mr. Boyajian, who serves as the council liaison to the town’s Parks and Recreation Commission, said people mistakenly believe that nothing is being done to help the fields. Mr. Boyajian added that the town should not have a “knee-jerk reaction” to a very wet fall season, which combined with the loss of middle school athletic fields (due to the construction of a new school), led to widespread soccer and baseball cancelations.

Instead, Mr. Boyajian said, the town should be focused on presenting solutions to the fields issue. He mentioned renovating the Harrington Field baseball field and inquiring about shifting potential savings from budgeted snow removal services to improving the town’s athletic fields.

Residents challenge proposal to raise field fees

The meeting opened with a short introduction from council president Michael Carroll and a presentation on the proposed field fee increase by Barrington Town Manager Jim Cunha. The presentation included the estimated costs to maintain the fields ($162,000) and the current field fees paid by sports leagues ($21,897). 

“These are not down to the penny,” said Mr. Cunha, “because, frankly, it is hard to do that.”

The town manager said that increasing league fees will help close the gap between revenue and expense and reduce taxpayer dollars for athletic fields.

Some people questioned the decision to raise the field fees. 

Ryan Jackson asked town officials how much money is spent on maintaining the non-athletic facilities, such as the field and walking paths at St. Andrew’s Farm or Police Cove Park. Mr. Cunha and Mr. Carroll said that the passive use fields are cut once or twice a year and do not require much work.

John Alessandro asked town officials how they built their financial analysis and questioned whether they accounted for the money credited to the town from the school department for facilities groundskeeping. He also asked whether maintenance of other open spaces, such as the dog park, was included in the analysis. 

Mr. Carroll said the costs of maintaining passive recreation spaces was not included in the report. He then said people should be focused on how the town should improve the fields.

Seth Fisher, an official with Barrington Pop Warner and East Bay Lacrosse, redirected the questions back to the school department’s contribution for field maintenance. He said the presentation should have included that figure and that officials were not being transparent. 

Mr. Boyajian later told people at the meeting that he had recently signed up his son to play Little League, and that a $15 increase was not going to break the bank. He also said the town should not be charging leagues a per-player field fee for players who are on need-based scholarships. 

Ted Myatt questioned the arbitrary nature of the fee. He asked how officials settled on the proposed increase. Mr. Myatt also said he thought Barrington was already paying a comparable rate to other towns, and added that every other town in Rhode Island has better fields than Barrington.

Mr. Carroll said other town’s fields are better because other towns are home to large corporations and have bigger commercial bases for tax money. 

Bill Horn, an official with East Bay Lacrosse, said he had called around to other towns’ sports leagues to see if they were required to pay field fees — he said none have field use fees. He also asked what the money was going to be used for, and that the town had no vision for improved fields in the future.

Barrington Youth Soccer Association President Steve DeBoth told council members that increasing fees for the leagues would have a domino effect that would result in a reduced number of children playing sports in town. 

Tom Rimoshytus asked council members who was in charge of making decisions regarding fields located on school property. He later said that officials should delay increasing fees until the fields have been improved.

Trinki Brueckner told the council members that she was worried about taxes and wants the parents to pay for the use of athletic fields.

Field improvement ideas

About halfway through the meeting, the subject switched from field fees to a more general discussion of the town’s outdoor athletic facilities. 

Chase Kazounis approached the microphone with a pile of papers in her hand. She said the papers included comments from Barrington High School students who took part in a recent survey. She said nearly every student comment was focused on getting better facilities, and more specifically, better fields. Mrs. Kazounis said the students work very hard and deserve to have better facilities. She also said the town is spending a lot of money to send some high school teams to other schools’ artificial turf fields for practice.

Mr. DeBoth asked for a better level of communication between the leagues and the department of public works regarding field maintenance needs. 

Ms. Horn then asked that the town consider forming a separate division at the DPW that was dedicated to maintaining athletic fields. 

Resident Scott Pickering urged the council to develop a long-term plan for the fields, and he suggested they focus attention on Haines Park, as it may be the last remaining opportunity to develop a large-scale facility in town. Mr. Carroll replied that fields are part of the town’s comprehensive plan. He agreed, however, that he would like to see that plan more fleshed out. 

Councilor Kate Weymouth said she is interested in having the town revisit the idea of acquiring Haines Park from the state, as it would give Barrington more control over the property. Currently the town maintains Haines Park but needs state approval before making any significant changes there. She said a similar effort to acquire Haines Park was sabotaged by the Barrington Conservation Commission 14 years ago, but today's conservation commission might view things differently.

Mr. Jackson asked if the town had considered taking some of the fields at the former Zion Bible College property by eminent domain. He also said that building an artificial turf field at the middle school and an artificial turf field at Victory Field would solve 90 percent of the town’s field issues. 

Mr. Jackson later told council members it was wrong for the town to expect one segment of the population to pay for improvements that will benefit the whole community.

Catherine Horn, a member of the town’s Parks and Recreation Commission, said the commission has been recommending installation of an artificial turf field for more than 30 years. She said that in 1987 a prior commission recommended that the town build an artificial turf field to help cover the shortage of available field space. Ms. Horn said that the issue surfaced again in 2002, and again in 2007. 

“It goes on and on,” she said, adding that it’s not a new issue for Barrington.

“Something needs to happen.”

Gina Pine said she supports the construction of an artificial turf field, while Mr. Myatt, who serves as a co-chair on the conservation commission, said his group has historically been anti-synthetic turf. He said environmental concerns surrounding artificial turf should be studied before the town makes a decision.

Jennifer Boylan told the council that her child’s safety is a priority for her, and that she is very opposed to synthetic turf. Later in the meeting, Mr. Fisher said he ran the football league that her son played in and that the sub-standard natural grass surface was dangerous. He said she and others should go and check out the new artificial turf fields in the area to see how safe they are.

Mr. Jackson told people at the meeting that while some folks might be concerned about artificial turf, all the town’s children are already playing on artificial turf fields in other towns and at other schools.

Ms. Weymouth said she is concerned about artificial turf because she believes it cannot be recycled. Barrington resident John Huard approached the microphone and told council members that artificial turf fields are being recycled. Mr. Huard said his job is installing both synthetic turf and natural grass fields.

Future study

Later in the meeting, Mr. Boyajian said the town does not need a special committee to further study issues surrounding athletic fields, as the Parks and Recreation Commission is capable of handling that work. 

But not all council members agree with Mr. Boyajian — Mr. Carroll and Jacob Brier spoke in favor of forming a task force or ad hoc committee that would research the subject and make recommendations.

The council will likely discuss forming a new fields ad hoc committee at its March 4 meeting. The council is also expected to vote on the proposed field fee increase on March 4.

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