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Recreation: Youth sports fees may jump to $35

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Fees to play Georgetown County youth recreational league sports could rise significantly with a plan under consideration by county officials.

Registration fees for football, basketball, soccer, cheerleading and flag football were lowered to $3 in 2007. County Council members hoped that might encourage more kids to play, but significant increases in participation figures never materialized and the reduced fee might have actually had a negative effect on the program, according to county staff.

“We find a good number of kids register for $3 and don’t show up again,” said Beth Goodale, county recreation director. “The staff feel like people don’t think the program is worth very much at $3, and I have to agree.”

Council’s health, education and leisure committee met this week to discuss raising the fees to $35, which would be more in line with what other counties and municipalities charge. Reduced rates would be offered to children from low-income families based on whether they qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches.

Children on reduced-price lunches would pay $18; those who receive free lunch would pay $10. Scholarships would also be available.

The county uses the same system for summer camps and it has worked well, Goodale said. Parents are familiar with that system, and it makes it easy for parents and staff to determine the fee without any “intrusive forms,” she added.

“I like the idea of using the lunch program as a basis rather than having our folks decide who gets a low fee,” Council Member Bob Anderson said.

The proposed increase would go a long way toward helping the programs pay for themselves, Anderson told the other three committee members. He gave them a summary of participation and costs.

The total cost for programs that have a $3 fee was about $109,630 for 2010-11, not including expenses associated with utilities, facilities and staff. The fees generated $11,184.

Under the proposed rates, Anderson estimates revenue would be about $83,540.

A survey of other counties and municipalities shows fees for similar programs range from $15 to $50, with the fee in Myrtle Beach going as high as $75 for out-of-city participants.

“We’ve done a lot of research and talked to a lot of departments, and nobody else has a $3 fee structure,” Goodale said.

Council Member Lillie Jean Johnson, who chairs the committee, asked if anyone had followed up with kids who registered then didn’t play to see what their reasons were.

Many kids register just to get the team jersey, Goodale said. “I mean, $3 for a jersey is a pretty good deal.”

Council Chairman Johnny Morant questioned whether the coaches have had input on the proposed increases and asked that they be allowed to weigh in before any action takes place.

“I just think they need to be part of it,” he said.

Council Member Jerry Oakley agreed. “Nobody likes surprises and everybody likes to be in the loop before decisions are made,” he said.

But it’s time the fee structure is reviewed, he said, adding that the $3 fee was an experiment.

“It was a noble experiment, but it didn’t have the effect we hoped it would,” he said.

Morant nodded, but said if the fee is raised parents need to be made aware well in advance.

County staff will talk with coaches about the increase at upcoming pre-season meetings and ask for feedback. Similar discussions will take place with the four regional booster clubs that are in charge of or organize baseball and softball teams.

Baseball and softball are the largest county leagues, with 1,512 kids playing this year. Basketball had the second highest number of participants with 765 kids.

Staff will report to the committee about the discussions before the matter goes to the full council.

New fees could be in place in time for the basketball season.

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