BROOKSVILLE — Strong opposition by nearly 50 officials from recreational sports leagues around Hernando County has all but killed a proposed annual fee for players using county facilities.
More sweat-equity maintenance work on fields and a major push to host sports tournaments here, however, could be in the players' futures.
The $20 fee, down from the $60 proposed earlier by county officials as a way to offset budget cuts this year, was roundly opposed at a town hall meeting Wednesday evening at the Community Activities Center in downtown Brooksville.
A letter soon will be sent to many Hernando County residents spelling out the county's proposed options, said parks and recreation director Pat Fagan.
"(The fee) will be on the letter," Fagan said, "but it's out already. It was clear tonight that nobody wants to pay it."
The county estimates the cost to maintain the fields will be $669,290 for the coming fiscal year. The county hoped to collect about $130,000 annually from the user fee, much of it to offset the impact of staff cuts that have already taken place.
However, Fagan said Wednesday night that at least four more jobs will have to be cut if the fee is not imposed.
Fagan said that parks and recreation officials and Hernando County Administrator David Hamilton now will focus on two other options:
• Inserting an amendment into the contracts the leagues sign with the county to use the facilities that commits adults to perform hours of volunteer maintenance work on the fields they use, including basic tasks such as cleaning bathrooms, picking up trash, mowing lawns and raking infields.
• Working to host in-season, regional and state tournaments that bring more out-of-town teams and generate revenue that could cover maintenance costs.
Several league officials raised questions such as: If the volunteer option is approved, who is responsible for what if more than one league shares a field? What happens if one league doesn't fulfill its maintenance obligations?
County recreation manager Harry Johnson said those details will have to be worked out with all of the league leaders.
As for the tournament suggestion, some league officials noted that it is a long, difficult process to get the rights to host such events, and even that doesn't guarantee there actually will be a tournament. Also, there is no assurance that the events will bring in enough money to make a difference.
One thing the league officials agreed on Wednesday night was that adding a new fee to the already rising costs to play in leagues was out of the question.
"Do we get a senior discount?" one member of a senior softball league called out jokingly about the fee. "But it doesn't seem right. The children and the seniors are being punished."
Mike Walker, the Hernando Youth League president, suggested getting more local businesses to help get the fees paid.
"We're in a special community," Walker said. "And I'm not saying (the fee) will ruin that, but we have to find a way to volunteer people in the community. We need to get the business community to help out."
Parks and recreation officials hope to get information on support for the various options to the County Commission by next month.
"We're proud of what we've done in the county through the parks and fields over the years," Fagan told the crowd. "And we're not against you. We're not here to oppose anyone or any of you. We need to work together, though, so we don't lose these fields we've all worked hard to get.''
Mike Camunas can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 544-1771.