Friday, March 11, 2016

The Funding of Youth Sports

A new candidate for Town Council recently lambasted Mayor Fraser and me on social media for our vote against the approval of the Sports League Funding Program.  

This Council candidate stated: 
Purcellville Facts -- Several years back our Council set aside a small amount of money ($4-5K) in the Town budget to support youth athletic organizations. I don't need to elaborate on the importance of youth sports. This is a no brainier, right? Last night I witnessed the Council vote 5-2 to support this effort. Yes, two Council members did not support this action. Today, we should all say thank you to Joan Lehr, Patrick McConville II, McCollum, Fuller and Nave for supporting this effort. Some of the best memories I have link back to Fireman's Field and Haske Field.

And our former Mayor Bob Lazaro also chimed in:
Interesting to read about Town politicians talk about their concerns for youth, but when they have a chance to support our kids they vote against their interests. Several years ago we put small amount of funds ($5K) in Town budget to support youth athletic organizations. No doubt of the importance youth sports has in keeping our children out of harms way. Last night the Council voted 5-2 to support this effort. Thank you to Council Members Joan Lehr, Patrick McConville II, McCollum, Fuller and Nave for supporting this effort. Actions speak louder than words.

The Purcellville sports funding program started in 2008 and has allocated typically $5,000 per year to leagues who requested funds through an application process. This past week, the majority on Town Council voted to spend $5,200 towards this program, to include $300 to both Woodgrove and Loudoun Valley High School's athletic scholarship program. [Note: Mayor Fraser initiated a fundraiser volleyball game to raise funds for school athletics.]  

I wanted to take an opportunity to explain the rationale behind my no vote. 

Sports programs are one of the most practical activities that promote youth development. These programs are unique in their ability to impact health, educational, and behavioral benefits. Our kids have sporting opportunities through private organizations and school athletics. The big question for sports is, who should pay and what should we pay for? 

An estimated 70% of all of youth sports programs are operated by parent-led interest groups, which use public facilities that are provided by our community tax dollars.  Purcellville residents pay taxes that support Fireman's field and some recreation activities. These same Purcellville residents also pay taxes to the Loudoun County, which supports playing fields and citizen's need and desire for recreation and leisure activities.  

Loudoun County Tax Breakdown. Purcellville Residents pay Town and County Taxes. 

Communities don't build or maintain fields to make money and turn a profit; we do it so that our citizens can play sports. Private individuals and private sporting organizations cannot build and maintain sports fields on their own because they’re just too expensive. That is why these facilities have become the responsibility of local government.

How tax dollars are spent on public sport and recreation facilities in the U.S. 

In April of 2008, the Town of Purcellville purchased Fireman's Field and Bush Meeting Grounds to preserve and protect the facility and grounds. Everyone agrees it is a wonderful resource and treasure, but no one wants to confront the economy of scale that burdens the 2800 households in Purcellville with a facility that cost millions to restore and funds to maintain while the vast majority of users and visitors for team sports to this facility are county residents. 
The debt service covers the cost to refurbish and purchase parks and recreation properties. 

Services which benefit everyone, or, at least, the majority, can be paid for with a fair tax instead of high fees. Public agencies supply many services that benefit the vast majority of the public. When we grant $5,000 to a sports league, that money helps a few.  Parents, on average pay an estimated $671 a year to cover the cost of uniforms, fees for registration, lessons, and coaching, and at least 1 in 5 parents spend over $1,000 per year, per child. No one doubts that the cost to participate in sports has skyrocketed, but the real question for sports is how should communities pay for kids to take part in private youth sports?

One of my council colleagues stated that even though many families look like they are doing well, they can't afford sports for their children or are may be going through financial hardship. No one argues there are folks in our community who are in need. But what defines needy?  

If someone appears to be doing well, my first impression is perhaps that they should reevaluate their personal priorities and spending. Why should their neighbor pay for their child's sports involvement when they probably bought too much home or stretched themselves to look like they are doing well? A family who suffers a layoff or a financial devastation or who lives in poverty is an entirely different situation, and many teams have grants to offset the cost of participation.  

Loudoun County now has roughly 350,000 people living here. Of that amount, just over 100,000 are children (person under 18 years old), and the percentage of children living in poverty in Loudoun County is estimated to be between 20-30%.

This sports funding program, however, is NOT going directly for the benefit of children and families in need.  The Town can't control how those funds are directed. Private sports programs remain essentially unaccountable to public scrutiny. Most of the kids that benefit from this funding do not live in Purcellville. Most of the children participating on these teams have families able and willing to pay for their participation. We are now subsidizing families who can afford team sports. There seems to be little concern about taking money from struggling Purcellville residents who contribute their taxes to this program and get no benefit from it.   

If we wanted to expand sporting opportunities, we would be looking at bringing sports to those who are shut out due to finances. I expressed this at our meeting last Tuesday night. I would rather the money be spent toward a dedicated scholarship for Purcellville families who cannot afford to participate in these sports leagues.  

When making a choice, something always has to be given up. When a municipality chooses to use taxpayer dollars on anything, we must consider what the alternative uses of those funds could be. 

Both the Council candidate and our former Mayor referred to this grant funding as "a small amount of money."   

Keeping the $5,200 in our town coffers would not make a significant dent in our structural deficits and spending -- but if we were to put together all of the "small amounts of money" that exist in our budget, pretty soon we are talking real money. Most budgets don't identify, track, and measure wasteful practices. That's why the waste occurs. Little things add up.  "Small amounts of money" add up to significant sums of money.  

Poll after poll shows that most Americans think our government is too big. Many of us would agree we should be realistic about what local government can and should do with our tax money. Concentrating on the basics will create a more sustainable community and perhaps help our Town debt from growing.  

Follow Up (9:30 pm Friday):
The use of semantics along with dishonesty is once again being used to make a judgment about my decision.  Our former Mayor had this to say on the subject: 

The Parks and Recreation Committee reviewed the process, and it was presented to the Town Council at our December 2015 meeting.  Here are the minutes from that night:

I can support changes, and I did so. The Council was not asked to grant the funding or to discuss the merits of the program, even though at the time I had my doubts about it. There is no conflict with voting for the changes. It wasn't an approval to create the funding or to disperse it. 

Mr.Lazaro is incorrect in his conjecture that we were looking for a return on investment.  Discussion centered on whether or not the teams and the players were from Purcellville, if the money was going specifically towards needy children (which could not be substantiated or accounted for), and if the teams were charitable organizations as opposed to some that operate in Loudoun as for-profit businesses (only two of the organizations marked their applications as charitable non-profits).

There is an important distinction between changing one's mind, changing direction, and being a flippant flip-flopper.  Being able to alter your course means you want to move ahead with prudence. Do you expect anyone to charge forward without ever making an adjustment? Leadership is about making tough decisions even when everyone else wants to go in a different direction.  

Mr.Lazaro seems to subscribe still to the notion that "there's nothing so absurd that if you repeat it often enough, people will believe it."  

I got a nice note from a former Council member today in response to this blog post.  It included this blurb:  
One time there was a motion to provide a donation in memory of a citizen...... I remember the Town Manager saying that citizens pay taxes to the Town to provide the necessary infrastructure for living in Town.  They do not pay taxes so you can donate to the causes you choose.  If they want to support those causes they will.

I think that pretty much sums it up!