Where did the money go?
That’s what Kathy Axsom, women’s Amateur Softball Association commissioner for the Mitchell area, is seeking to find out after she pressed the Parks and Recreation Board Thursday about where the capital improvement money local softball teams paid the city’s Parks and Recreation Department in previous years has gone.
Axsom’s concern stemmed from the past fee structure the city had imposed on softball teams to play in rec leagues before switching it in 2016. Prior to 2016, softball teams paid a capital improvement fee which was intended to help fund softball facility improvements at Cadwell Sports Complex.
Earlier this year, the city revamped its fee structure to an athlete-based fee system, which implemented a $17 per-athlete fee for ages 13 and up and $7 for athletes 12 and under. The new structure included all Parks and Recreation sports leagues that utilize city-owned facilities. Under the new fee structure, teams don't pay a capital improvement fee.
“In 2015 and 2016, we paid in over $6,300 to the city that went toward improving the softball diamonds,” Axsom said. “The way we understood it was the last and only time our money was used was for breakaway bases. That was all fine and well, but now there is no money left.”
Axsom claimed the sunshades over the bleachers that were installed at the softball diamonds several years ago were included in the Parks and Recreation Department’s budget. Therefore, she is wondering why the capital improvement money that was collectively paid by softball teams leading up to 2016 is completely depleted.
“With that being said, we want to know where all of our money has gone?” Axsom asked the board. “Before the team fee switch, over the years women’s (teams) alone had paid the city roughly $10,000 into this capital improvement fund.”
At the very least, Axsom said she would like to see a receipt or paper trail as to where the money allocated in the capital improvement went. City leaders didn't have concrete answers to her questions.
President Brian Johnson said the capital improvement fund was indeed designed to help pay for any improvements at the softball diamonds, but was unsure who maintained the funds.
“The associations were the ones who generated the capital improvement fees, as they would charge a set amount per player, which would go into a fund," said Johnson, who was on the board in 2016.
Johnson said the money was put into a trust fund, which was then supposed to be communicated with the softball association prior to spending it.
“I do know any money that was ever spent out of that trust fund was supposed to be run through the association prior to it getting spent,” Johnson said. “Whether that happened, I wouldn’t have that answer.”
Parks and Recreation Director Nathan Powell said the City Council and Parks and Recreation Board approved to do away with the capital improvement fee in 2016. Because Powell wasn’t serving as the director when the capital improvement fund Axsom referenced was in place, he couldn’t provide the answer as to where the money went and how it was managed.
“This fund was in place before I got here, and we changed that when I did arrive. I can’t speak for something that I wasn’t around for,” Powell said.
Marty Barington, City Council member and Parks and Recreation liaison, said he was unaware of where the money was spent but assumed the capital improvement fees were used for operational costs.
“I imagine it went to an operational account,” Barington said. “But what Nathan’s (Powell) saying is that in 2016 it was removed, because it may not have all been used specifically toward upgrading things at the ball diamond.”
Barington emphasized the city’s decision to end the capital improvement fee in 2016, switching to a team fee structure, helped properly allocate the monies paid by teams to where it should have been spent.
Factoring in the annual cost of operating the Cadwell Sports Complex facility, Powell estimated it to be roughly $500,000.
Along those lines, Barington said the existing fee structure that softball and all rec league sports teams pay is how the city affords providing the facilities for the teams to play. He noted the city's existing fees for teams to play is reasonable compared to other municipalities.
“They need to pay that, because we’re not going to operate this half-million dollar facility through taxpayers' dollars, which is already about 95 percent of how it is paid. They have to have some skin in the game,” Barington said of the rec league sports teams. "We'll look into this and try to get an answer as soon as possible."