The Havelock Board of Commissioners heard complaints about recreation fees as residents voiced opinions on the proposed 2014-15 budget during a meeting Monday night.
The budget calls for increases of fees for out-of-city participants in youth sports leagues by $5 next year, $10 the following year and $15 the year after that.
“I don’t think you guys realize that a lot of those kids are going to go away when the fees go up,” Justin Clayborne, president of the Havelock Little League Board of Directors, told commissioners. “A lot of the kids that play youth sports, not just Little League, but girls that play softball, the majority of them don’t live in the city limits. Of the 12 board members that we have in Little League, nine of them live outside the city limits. So, not only will you lose the kids, but you are going to lose the volunteers. If you guys raise the fees, they are going to go to New Bern or Newport and play.”
He pointed out that the Havelock Little League had been part of the city for more than 50 years and that recent struggles with participation and volunteers in the girls softball league could hit Little League if out-of-city residents leave.
“What we are going to need in order to get revenue for the rec center is more kids playing,” Clayborne said. “I don’t think the fees are going to do it.”
Clayborne suggested going to businesses and getting scholarship funds to keep the kids playing.
“If they’re not playing, they are probably going to be out there doing stuff that’s going to cost the city money and I hate to see that happening to the youth sports in Havelock,” Clayborne said. “We’re charging $65 per child now to play baseball. When I started a few years ago it was $45 when my kid was little. We’re going to be looking at $100 a kid here in a few years if you guys raise the fees.”
Paul Williams, president of Havelock Babe Ruth Baseball, said six of seven league board members live outside the city limits, as do about 75 percent of the players.
“I have had parents already come to me and say that they are going to New Bern and they will play where they pay their taxes,” Williams said. “We’ve had a very hard struggle over the last five to seven years keeping these leagues alive and ours is another one that has been here 50-plus years and I don’t want to see that go away.”
Williams said the fee increase would “punish” children just because of where they live.
“All that’s saying to our youth is go somewhere else to play or don’t play at all,” Williams said. “As far as volunteers go, I know at least four of my board members will be gone if we start doing this. Board members are very hard to come by and they are all volunteers.
“I don’t want to see it go away. You’re probably going to get to the point to where just like with girls softball now, to where the recreation department is running it. They were at a strong eight to 10- or 12-team league and now they are a three-team league.”
Jennifer Wells, a resident of Craven County, said she and her retired military husband have three children that each play a sport in Havelock.
“It’s a little pricey, but we’re willing to pay that,” she said. “I know it doesn’t just affect us as a family. Last year when we went to sign up for softball … there was another family with three little girls that had to walk out because of that fee. So, I do think that if you raise the taxes and increase the fees for everybody to use the sports, I think that you are going to lose families in that regard.”
Wells cited the need for sports to help with childhood obesity.
“I think that anything you can do to keep children active and into sports would be a great benefit for the children and the community,” she said.
Mayor Will Lewis said the county provides virtually no funding to the city for the recreation department and that about 35 percent of children participating in Havelock leagues don’t live in the city. With all the money for the recreation department coming from taxes, it means city residents are paying part of the bill for non-city residents to participate in the leagues.
About $1 million of the city’s proposed $17.3 million budget goes to the recreation department.
“The point is that our board is having a hard time seeing past our city limits on things like recreation,” Lewis said.
Lewis said the issue would be discussed again during a budget workshop at 7 p.m. Monday at Havelock City Hall.
No comments were heard on the city’s plan to raise property taxes two cents from 46.5 cents to 48.5 cents per $100 in valuation. The increase equals about $27 to the annual tax bill for the average Havelock home valued at $134,830.
The proposed spending plan also includes a 1.6 percent Consumer Price Index increase in water and sewer rates, costing the average user an extra $1.22 per month. There is no planned increase in trash pickup.
The board is expected to adopt the budget on June 23.