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Council plays hard ball on field rates

  • Written by Don Mann
DSC_0458"You were incorrectly charged the 2010 rate for field use instead of the 2011 rates approved in September with the passage of Resolution No. 392," Woodinville Finance Director Jim Katica’s January 25, 2011, letter to eight local youth sports organizations began.

He attached a spreadsheet that identified the field rentals requested, the amount charged, the amount that should have been charged and the amount owed if they wanted to retain the fields, ranging from $102 to $9,000 for a total of about $31,000.

Last Tuesday the city council, despite a public outcry from the affected parties and claims of wrongdoing, upheld its decision to charge the higher rates for all games played on the artificial turf of Woodinville Fields in 2011 and beyond. The decision was determined in a 3-2-2 council vote, with Mayor Chuck Price, Deputy Mayor Bernie Talmas and Councilmember Susan Boundy-Sanders in the majority.

Councilmembers Paulette Bauman and Jeff Glickman abstained, claiming it was an administrative and not a council issue.

The council adopted new field rental rates on September 14, 2010, effectively doubling them to cover a greater proportion of the costs for field maintenance.

Many of the field user groups were told by city Parks and Recreation staff that if they paid for their 2011 rentals before January 1 they could rent at the 2010 rates.

Some groups — like Woodinville Little League (WLL) — paid for rentals before Resolution No. 392 was adopted, and some paid after the adoption but before year end.

To further complicate the matter, the parks and rec staff was dismissed from their duties as of December 31.

Brian Marantz, president of WLL, was informed that his organization owes an additional $6,305 and is not happy about it.

"We were told by city staff we could get 2010 rates if we booked and paid in 2010," he said. "We reserved fields back in June of 2010 for usage in March of 2011, paid in full, and received a confirmed rental contract from the city. We then reserved fields on Demember 1 of 2010 for the rest of the 2011 season, paid in full and received another confirmed rental contract."

Marantz said he was disturbed that council was now asking field customers to pay for a mistake made by city staff.

"They admit it was a mistake, but why are we being punished?" he asked. "A contract is a contract — even in the application it says it’s a contract. We’ve talked to an attorney, spoken with other local city attorneys and they all say it’s a contract."

The city now says the agreements are permits and not binding contracts in the legal sense.

"A contract is something that creates mutual obligations," Woodinville City Attorney Greg Rubstello said Tuesday. "My legal opinion is there is no enforceable contract to which the city is bound to rent ... that field space at 2010 rates. The groups have a right to back out."

City Manager Richard Leahy said the city had budgeted for $208,000 in field revenue over the next two years and was counting on all of it.

"We’re in a pickle here," Councilmember Liz Aspen said before the vote on her motion was taken and failed. "It was a mistake but it’s not their fault. These are kids in our community and I see it as our own mistake."

Glickman said city records show an unusual December surge in field rentals for 2011.

"A city employee sent a letter to the sports organizations saying pay now because the rates are going up." He said the city cannot "give away $30,000 because of an inappropriate action taken by a city employee."

Boundy-Sanders, who earlier voted against reverting back to 2010 rates, called it a moral issue and moved to send the city manager back to the resident youth groups for discussion on "possible cost refinement," including deferring unpaid fees. The motion passed 4-2-1, with Aspen, Bauman, Boundy-Sanders and Scott Hageman voting yes, and Glickman in abstention.

In a letter hand delivered the next morning to Leahy, Marantz said he was willing to sit down with city staff but had two requests: extend Katica’s February 28 deadline for payment, and assure WWL’s March schedule will not be interfered with.

Opening day is March 13.

Marantz said all Woodinville’s other youth groups were "on board."

"We’re willing to negotiate but they need to know negotiate means being willing to meet us half way." He added that WWL had contingency plans to rent fields at the Northshore Athletic Fields complex and through the Northshore School District.

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