City, school district resolve dispute over softball field fees

By Joel Stottrup

The conflict that recently developed between the city of Princeton and the local school district and softball association over the charging of fees for the use of softball fields at Mark Park has dissipated.

The city council has agreed to negotiate a new agreement on the use of the softball fields.

The council decision last Thursday followed a meeting the evening before attended by Mayor Jeremy Riddle, Superintendent Rick Lahn, district director of business services Carol Breitkreutz, school board members Craig Johnson, Jim Gibbs, Jeremy Miller and Kathy Kraft, community education director Gwen Anderson, city public works director Bob Gerold, city parks board member Todd Frederick, Princeton Public Utilities manager Dave Thompson, and council member Dick Dobson. The attendees agreed that a new agreement could be worked out on the use of the ball fields at Mark Park and that the fees enacted by the city will stay in place.

The council rescinded the old 2009 Mark Park facilities agreement on Feb. 2 at the suggestion of city attorney Dick Schieffer. He reasoned that the 2009 agreement was based on a joint powers agreement that had expired, therefore the agreement was obsolete.

The fees the council approved last December for the use of any of the three softball fields at Mark Park are as follows: Non youth league teams are to each be charged $150 per season, and also a $20 fee during a tournament. That would apply to the softball association teams. Youth players, which would include high school students, would be charged $5 per player. These fees would not apply to a few kids getting together on a field for recreation once in a while, the council noted.

Lahn had taken issue with the fees not long after they were implemented. He expressed that in a letter to the city and also at the council’s Feb. 2 meeting.

Lahn declared that the city shouldn’t charge the school any fees to use the softball fields since the school district had invested as much as $216,000 into athletic fields at Mark Park since 1988.

But when all the sides met Feb. 22 to discuss the fees, the conflict between the city and school district vanished.

As Riddle told the council on Feb. 23, everyone left the Feb. 22 meeting happy.

Riddle said at the Feb. 22 meeting that softball players would be charged a total of $235 a season. He based this on 47 players being charged $5 each.

Lahn said that he could live with the $5 per student fee. School board members Johnson, Kraft and Miller also agreed to the fee.

City park board member Frederick gave an insight as to why the park board had recommended that the council institute the new fees for the use of the Mark Park softball fields. He explained that the grass on the softball fields had become very thin and that if users of those fields contributed more, there would be funds to restore the grass to its original green and thick condition. He said that football had been played on one of the fields, contributing to the most thinning of the grass. (The football playing was through community ed and some other younger kids who were not under community ed.)

Riddle noted that under a new agreement, parties in the agreement could back out of it if usage fees ever became too great.

“We’re not trying to break the bank (with the fees),” Frederick added.

Jack Breitkreutz, an umpire with the local softball association and former softball player who had criticized the new fee structure a few weeks ago, said last Friday that he still feels there are unanswered questions on the need for charging fees for the use of Mark Park softball fields.