Soccer and baseball players can expect to pay substantially more in 2010 for the use of the two baseball and two soccer fields in Portola Valley. The Town Council has authorized increases, effective Jan. 1, 2010, that are expected to boost playing-field revenues by 62 percent to $66,000 a year, assuming that field use remains about the same.
The council approved the new fees in a unanimous vote Dec. 9. The Parks & Recreation Committee recommended the new per-player, per-season rate structure, which follows a 50 percent across-the-board increase that the council implemented in August.
The increases come in a rare budget year for Portola Valley in which revenues dropped, the first such event in 15 years, Town Manager Angela Howard said in June. Home-construction and state-derived revenues are down and expenses are up, including a 33 percent increase over three years for law enforcement services.
The fee increases are designed to have players split with the taxpayers the $168,600 cost to maintain the four fields, though the anticipated $66,000 in revenues falls short of that goal for 2010. A staff report included an additional 25 percent increase for 2011, but the council put off that discussion for a future meeting.
The changes affect organized soccer at Rossotti Field at 3919 Alpine Road and Russ Miller Field at Town Center at 765 Portola Road, and organized baseball and softball at Ford Field at 3399 Alpine Road and the new Town Center diamond.
For kids in leagues, including Alpine-West Menlo Little League and two soccer leagues -- AYSO and Kidz Love Soccer -- the fee per player goes to $40 from $22.50, a 78 percent increase.
For the Alpine Football Club, a youth soccer group with home fields in Portola Valley and Woodside, the rate jumps 167 percent to $60. The steeper increase reflects lower revenues from club games, in which only the home-team players pay.
The same logic applies for adult leagues and clubs. Players with the co-ed adult soccer league and the adult softball league will see their fees rise 33 percent to $60, while fees for the Portola Valley Soccer Club will jump 100 percent to $90.
A town apart?
In a Dec. 9 letter to the council, Tim Goode, president of the Alpine/West Menlo Little League, complained about a tripling of fees from the spring of 2009 and wondered why Portola Valley asks for so much from its players.
Burlingame charges $10 per player, and San Carlos and Belmont charge $20, he said.
Among communities that charge by the hour, Portola Valley works out to nearly $18 per hour versus $2 and $6 for Palo Alto and Menlo Park, respectively, and nothing at all in Pacifica and Foster City, Mr. Goode said. (Woodside also does not charge fees, Assistant Town Manager Kevin Bryant told The Almanac.)
Taken as a whole, Alpine-West Menlo will pay $12,000 to Portola Valley in 2010 to play on two ball fields, Mr. Goode said, whereas Hillsborough's Little League pays $30,000 to the city for the use of eight ball fields.
"To get two fields and have to pay $12,000 is a heavy, heavy burden," he told the council.
And Portola Valley should not bundle staff costs in with field maintenance costs, he added. "This seems to be a necessary expense of the town," he said.
Parks committee member Lindsay Bowen suggested that leagues might respond by avoiding Portola Valley fields.
Council members and town staff responded with comparisons of their own. The town maintains its fields to a higher standard than is common and there are fewer taxpayers in town, they said. The thirsty grass fields are not as hardy as synthetic grass and will be increasingly expensive to maintain when water rates start three years of increases in 2011, they added.
Portola Valley is atypical in that its sales taxes represent 3 percent of its revenues. That compares to 5 percent for Pacifica, 8 percent for Woodside and double-digits for Belmont, San Carlos and Burlingame, according to published budgets for 2009-10. Hillsborough is residential only and levies no sales taxes, the assistant city manager told The Almanac.
Portola Valley's goal of having players pay half the costs is somewhat arbitrary, Councilman Ted Driscoll noted, but added: "I wonder how long Pacifica will be able to (have a no-fee program) in the face of an ongoing water crisis."
Little League families paid $15 per-player per-season in 2008 and will pay $40 in 2010. It's not as if they were paying $50 and that was boosted to a comparable $150, Councilman Steve Toben said. "Forty dollars, to me, in a (setting) of fresh air and sunshine for my kid is a pretty decent investment," he said.