BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos County Community Services Director Cory Styron spoke under public comment at Tuesday’s Los Alamos County Council meeting about the community concern regarding the Little League’s letter about the County’s Policy 1735 around field use fees and work credit option. Styron spoke under public comment because the item was not on Council’s agenda for the meeting. Los Alamos County Little League President Joe Rodriguez and Aaron Walker alos chimed in under public comment. Styron’s comments were as follows:
Policy 1735 has been in place for decades but had not been updated since 2006. Staff presented policy updates to the County Council on August 31, 2021, and it went into effect Oct 1, 2021. The 2006 policy set a rate of $15 per hour for ballfield rental, and based on a recent market study, it was raised to $20 per hour.
The update of the policy was not intended to vastly change the impact on any user group. Staff has discussed this issue with the Little League president, and we now understand that it was not the intent of the League to have all fees waived, but rather that volunteer efforts be given appropriate credit as part of the work credit mechanism. This is very similar to what has occurred in prior years, and we expect that after we sit and discuss details with the league that again the outcome will be similar to prior years – largely because the work credit hourly rate has also increased from $15 per hour to $28.54 per hour.
As part of the February 9 work credit discussion between user groups and staff, all leagues and super users were provided a document with their total requested rental hours for use and the associated cost of the rentals. It appears that the Little League mistakenly presumed that this courtesy notice was an invoice. The purpose of the notice was to show each user their potential cost of service to plan accordingly for the season. Many leagues were surprised and unaware of the number of hours they used the facilities.
Staff is committed to working with all our facility users, including the Los Alamos County Little League to explore options to offset expenses.
We value our youth and the members in our community.
We are committed to providing quality facilities for our facility users.
Rodriguez thanked Council for the emails he had received in response to his letter and noted that the Little League board is meeting with the Community Services Department next week.
“I apologize for any confusion. On reading the policy it is very clear that users are granted the ability to use volunteer hours that they use during their organization’s preparation for their season and volunteering hours during their season and that that time can count towards their volunteer efforts,” he said. “Conversations with the Community Services staff in the past had indicated that we were not allowed to take credit for the volunteer time that benefited our organization.”
Rodriguez said what he was told and what he believes other organizations were also told, is that the time they spend organizing their leagues and volunteering time to ensure children within their organizations are available, that that was not time we were going to be able to count towards the volunteer effort.
“I also understand after a conversation today with Mr. Styron that I may have filled out the paperwork inappropriately and I hope to get that rectified on Monday during our meeting with the Community Services Department,” he said.
Walker told Council he thinks what is important to pay attention to is “the optics of the whole thing”.
“It never really should have gotten to this level. This should have been a discussion held between the Little League president and the County Manager and the Community Services Director. It should not have gotten to this point. The fact that it has indicates that there’s a problem somewhere in this pipeline and that there’s a problem with the revised rules,” Walker said.
He referred to a statement by Styron that County Manager Steven Lynne “wasn’t willing or didn’t want to” waive the fees for Little League.
“I think that also presents really bad optics. I know Mr. Lynne wants to do the right thing but the optics it presents when the League is presented with challenges and a pretty surprising issue that arose seemingly out of nowhere. The thing to do there is keep their concerns in mind and to have discussions quickly and solve it quickly without needing to resort to putting out into the public space like this,” Walker said. “This should have been resolved I think a lot quicker and if the County Manager has flexibility to waive some Walker of these fees, then use it, especially when there’s a lot of confusion with the new policy. Use the waiver policy and then take that time that you have to review the policy for where the confusion lies so that there’s no major public issue, so there’s no major blowback from the community, so that you present the right optics to the community.” Walker said otherwise, the way things are right now, it’s presented to the community that the County really doesn’t want youth sports.
“I understand that’s not the case and I get that but you still have to pay very close attention to the way things are presented in the public space and how things are represented to the public,” he said.