MARQUETTE - The Marquette City Commission on Monday overruled a previous budgetary decision, rescinding an increase in the city's per team fee for youth sports.
The commission agreed during its budget process this spring to increase the fees for youth teams from $60 to $115 per team beginning in the spring of 2013.
On Monday, members from the Superiorland Soccer Association approached the commission and requested relief from the increase, which they said makes it tougher for families.
Youth soccer players Jaron Hembroff, left, and Willie Noble go for the ball during a game in July 2011 at the Kaufman Sports Complex in Marquette. (Journal file photo)
The SSA runs a soccer scholarship program that provides kids with free or reduced-price soccer. To apply, students must qualify for free or reduced school lunch and SSA President Jim Mackey said the number of applications more than doubled this season to 75.
"We could not support that many," Mackey told the commission. "My concern is that if this fee increase is not rescinded, we will have to increase our fees. What that would do to our user base or our kids, I don't know."
SSA board member Bob Anderson cited the organization's efforts to improve the Kaufman Sports Complex, where the SSA worked to build fields and bathroom facilities. Such work should be taken into account, he said.
"We believe that cost recovery should not be the only criteria for managing youth sporting facilities," Anderson said. "We believe that our future is in our youth and providing them with healthy activities helps to keep them off the streets. This should be a function of all municipal governments."
Commissioner David Saint-Onge said he agreed that youth sports were vital, but refused to go back on a budget decision.
"The budget has been adopted, but if we continue to do business this way and change our minds every time someone comes to the podium, we're never going to work our way out of some of the holes that we tend to dig ourselves" into, he said.
A majority of the commission disagreed with Saint-Onge, however, and the group voted 5-2 to rescind the fee increase. Saint-Onge and Commissioner Robert Niemi voted against the motion.
"I just don't believe we're having this conversation in this tone. Everything can't be considered on a business-like basis," Commissioner Don Ryan said. "Is this city not willing to spend anything for youth recreation? Does it all have to be on a paying basis? I don't get it and I just don't support it."
Mayor John Kivela noted that the commission had just approved $484,000 for bills payable and $342,000 for sewer work with no discussion.
"And we're sitting here wrangling over $3,600 for kids?" Kivela asked. "And not just kids, but kids whose parents built a field, kids whose parents are still raising the money to pay off the debt on the fields that they built to provide the city. Really? My vote's not going to change. I supported it last time."
City staff and commissioners voiced interest in working out a compromise down the line, which could involve a special joint use agreement between the city and the SSA.
Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. His email address is email@example.com.