By Darwin Yanes and Nikolas Donadic
Legislators from the Town of Hempstead unanimously approved a bill on Tuesday evening that will allow local non-profit little league organizations to use town baseball fields for free.
The bill was drafted in response to the announcement made by Nassau County Executive Laura Curran (D) that the county would not be waiving usage fees for the county’s fields this year, a practice which was a long-held tradition. Curran could not be reached for comment.
The decision not to waive county park fees was initially projected to net Nassau County about $1 million in revenue, which was supposed to help close the county’s budget deficit.
Nassau County’s budget has repeatedly been described as a fiscal mess, by Curran. who won her seat by vowing to push for economic reform. The county, which has a $3 billion budget, could have a deficit of over $100 million this year, according to the Nassau Interim Finance Authority.
“The issue with leaving discretion in any sort of situation like this is, obviously, what we’ve seen,” Anthony D’Esposito, the Town of Hempstead Councilman (R) who spearheaded the response bill, said. “There’s a change in administration, something goes bad, and now you have little leagues getting bills for 16 or $17,000,” he said.
Even amidst the community backlash, Curran threw out the first pitch at a Seaford Little League game this past week. A little league organization in Seaford would reportedly face a total of nearly $16,000 in fees under her new plan.
The implementation of that plan could lead some local leagues, particularly the non-profit, community centered ones, to raise registration fees.
“We’ve done everything in our power to keep rates the same for the last 15 years,” Alan Krull, the President of Hewlett-Woodmere Little League, told the Long Island Herald.
Hewlett-Woodmere Little League, like many others, is a registered non-profit. Under the Town of Hempstead’s new law, local non-profit leagues will not have to worry about Curran’s policy.
“What I did, as soon as I heard [of Curran’s plan], was I reached out to those organizations–in my district–that utilize county parks, and I tried to make our town parks available, since we do waive the fees,” D’Esposito said.
Some local little league officials believe that if the county plans on cutting into its budget deficit, refusing to waive field fees for little leagues should not be the place to start.
“This is an ongoing issue that has also had a cost impact on school fields – which were free,” Al D’Elia, the Director of the Long Island Astros, said. “Many schools now charge for use of their fields as well.” The Astros participate in four leagues throughout Long Island.
There is an unfair advantage afforded to larger organizations, which charge higher registration fees, D’Elia said.
The leagues he is referencing are typically more competitive in nature, fostering more of an AAU style; rather than the traditional, more laid back approach taken a majority of local leagues.
Other legislators in Nassau County have also begun to move to counteract the impending fees. An online petition was started by John Ferretti Jr. (R), of District 15, to gauge community support for a bill similar to Hempstead’s.
“In the end–towns and schools have had budget cuts so this gets transferred to player’s families,” D’Elia said. “With Little league this should not be a major burden and many of our leagues will allow for a hardship if one exists.”