Foster/Glocester schools hold the line on athletic fees for residents, despite pleas from council

Acotes baseball fields on Putnam Pike, Chepachet. NRI NOW photo by Dick Martin

GLOCESTER – The Foster/Glocester Regional School Committee is holding the line on charging residents for use of their athletic facilities, despite objections from the Town Council.

The fees were imposed last year for the first time. At the time councilor Walter Steere said residents, who paid for the facility through their taxes, had been using the facility for more than 50 years without the cost. Steere previously drafted a letter to the committee, which was sent on behalf of the council, asking them to reconsider charging residents for use of a facility that they bought and pay for. Shields told the council the committee read it, but ignored it. They refused to waive the fee for use of the facility, he said.

The letter stated in part that, “We appreciate that some fees may have already been waived for these programs; however, we are concerned that our residents are participating in a town funded recreational activity and are paying any fee for the use of a facility that is currently funded through their tax dollars…We would appreciate an explanation for the reasoning behind the decision and ask if the charging of fees for the town recreation program can and will be reconsidered.”

The committee did not formally respond to the letter.

At the recent Town Council meeting, Recreation Director Robert Shields told the council in a letter dated March 3 that the committee was not interested in removing the $75 fees for adult recreation volleyball and basketball at the Ponaganset gyms.

“Ponaganset Regional School system’s new policy regarding the use of their facilities has had a detrimental effect on Glocester recreation activities,” stated Shields in his letter. “They have decided to allow Glocester youth activities to use the region’s facilities without paying rental or cleaning fees; however, for adult activities they are waiving the usage fee for the year. They are charging a cleaning fee of $75 per day.”

At the last council meeting, board members agreed to determine what it costs to maintain town baseball fields, which regional baseball teams used during the season. The council discussed the possibility of charging the regional schools for upkeep and maintenance of those fields.

Shield’s letter went on to say, “The region’s decision to charge fees for the use of the facilities disregards the fact that Glocester taxpayer dollars contribute to this region’s funding. It also overlooks the shared goal of providing the community with the best possible activities. While I strongly disagree with the region’s new policy and consider it shortsighted, I do not recommend potentially charging fees for the use of town facilities. Lowering ourselves to the same level as the regional’s actions would be an unproductive approach. Instead, we should maintain a higher standard and continue to advocate for a more cooperative and communityoriented policy from the Ponaganset Regional School system.”

Shields said he had attended several School Committee meetings to try to convince them to change their minds, but to no avail. He suggested the Town Council arrange a meeting with the School Committee in an attempt to come to an, “understanding that serves the best interests of our community.”

“A unified approach from out town’s leadership may be more effective in resolving this issue cooperatively,” stated Shields in his letter.

Councilor Jonathan Burlingame said he had met with the superintendent and athletic director regarding the issue. The policy, he said, had always been in place, but had never been enforced. They don’t charge the local Little League for use of facilities because they are residents, but they do charge outside teams, like the Titans, who are not residents.

“I think their understanding is that a lot of our recreation programs, the basketball and volleyball, are non-residents,” said Burlingame. “I think that is their stance on it. If they bring people, non-residents, in, then they are going to charge.”

Steere, who suggested finding out what it does cost to maintain local fields, etc., said it was a good idea to discover what it costs the town to care for those fields for future consideration and information.

“Maybe there is a point where we do have to start charging,” he said. “There are two separate issues here. One is keeping our facilities up. The other is the region charging our taxpayers twice to use those facilities. I just think it’s wrong what they’re doing.”

Steere added there were non-residents on teams that used the town’s facilities, but they aren’t charged for that. Additionally, he said, some of the non-residents who might play on recreational basketball teams, for example, were once residents, and they weren’t the majority of players.

Director of Public Works Gary Treml told the council it costs about $460 to mow town baseball fields each time. He said that cost does include maintaining infields and more.

“So, we’re talking over $16,000 worth of grass cutting,” responded Town Council President William Worthy.

Councilor Stephen Arnold told the council the middle school uses the baseball fields two months straight during baseball season.

“We’re not in control of them,” said Burlingame. “They make their decisions. They make their policies. I don’t think it’s for us to say, ‘hey, we don’t like what you did; so, we don’t want to do it.’ We have to accept their policy or just not use it.”

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