Mark Park fees stir up school district

A conflict has arisen over whether the city of Princeton should charge the school district to use any of the athletic facilities at Mark Park.

Superintendent Rick Lahn told the city council last Thursday that he didn’t think the city should do that. He emphasized that the district has spent more than $216,000 on improvements for those facilities since 1988.

Lahn made the statement after the council passed a motion to terminate a 2009 agreement between the city and the school district, and the Princeton Softball Association and Princeton Jaycees involving the use of Mark Park ball fields.

Among the provisions in the agreement are maintenance responsibilities. It states that the city will provide its standard mowing and irrigation of the softball and baseball fields as provided under the joint powers agreement. Also, if the district deems that the city’s normal maintenance is inadequate to meet the softball and baseball needs of Princeton High School, the district may then do additional maintenance as its own expense.

The agreement also states that the district is responsible for detailing the fields including but not limited to making base path and pitching mound modifications, establishing foul lines and making other playing field preparations. The city, district and softball association will also share in the cost of providing and maintaining red rock or lime additions.


‘Very concerned’

“We’re very concerned,” Lahn told the four council members and acting mayor Paul Whitcomb who presided in the temporary absence of Mayor Jeremy Riddle. Lahn said he didn’t think the taxpayers would be happy about paying taxes to the city and school district and then see student activity fees go up if the district had to increase those to balance new fees from the city.

The motion to rescind the 2009 agreement came at the recommendation of City Attorney Dick Schieffer. And Schieffer apparently made his recommendation as a result of an e-mail from the school district, which was apparently precipitated by the council setting new Mark Park softball field fees two months ago.

The new fees are $150 per non-youth league per team per season, $20 per team during a tournament, a $100 damage deposit for a key, and $5 per person per season if on a youth team. It’s the $5 per youth team member per season that would apply to the high school softball players, said City Administrator Karnowski when he was asked on Monday about how the fees would apply to the high school.

Karnowski added that it was never the intent of the city to charge the school district for using the baseball fields in Mark Park. Lahn noted last week that the school district has poured $85,000 into baseball fields at the park since 1988.

But back to the chain of events leading up to Lahn’s remarks to the council last Thursday, Karnowski stated in a memo to the council that in the month following the city establishing the softball field fees, the city received an e-mail from the school district stating that in its opinion the city “could not charge the district for using those fields” due to previous agreements between the district and the city.

Karnowski forwarded the mentioned agreements to city attorney Schieffer for comment and Schieffer responded that he didn’t believe the agreements precluded the city from charging the district the same fees paid by other groups for ball field use.

Schieffer also recommended the city exercise its option to “terminate those obsolete agreements since those provisions of the 1995 joint powers agreement have not been complied with since about 1999 and the 2009 agreement hinges on the 1995 agreement.”

Karnowski did include in his memo the hope that city and school district officials could negotiate a “new and more equitable agreement that takes the district’s investment into consideration.” The district “has indeed invested considerable funds into Mark Park and, in the opinion of staff, should get some consideration for those investments,” Karnowski stated.

Lahn, in interviews after the meeting, said that when multiple jurisdictions can pool resources, in this case athletic facilities at Mark Park, it becomes affordable for each.

If the school district just paid the fees and didn’t put the money into the Mark Park facilities that it does, Lahn said, the city would come out on the short end. Lahn also called the rescinding of the approximately two-year-old agreement as coming “out of the blue.”