2017-05-19 / Front Page

Rec. Comm discusses St. Paul’s rental fees

BY RIKKI N. MASSAND

A 25-minute executive session to discuss advice of village counsel kick-started the Wednesday, May 3 meeting of Garden City’s Board of Commissioners of Recreation and Cultural Affairs (Rec. Commission), after months of debate over the high facility fee increases incurred by Garden City nonprofit organizations.

Each May and June Garden City sees two major events at St. Paul’s, the Andy Foundation’s annual Yard Sale, which took place on May 13, and the annual Jay Gallagher Memorial Lacrosse Tournament, coming up for its 20th year in the village on Saturday, June 17. The Jay Gallagher Tournament is reduced to a single day instead of two consecutive days due to higher field rental costs. In addition to heavy community support and raising awareness for medical concerns and local nonprofits, 100 percent of funds raised at the Jay Gallagher go towards the Mollie Biggane Melanoma Foundation (Mollie’s Fund), the Andy Foundation, and the Cancer Center for Kids at Winthrop University Hospital. Last year 120 lacrosse teams from the northeast region participated at St. Paul’s on June 18 and 19, 2016.

The Rec. Commission approved field/facility rental fee increases across the board as part of the five-year, 2016 to 2020, Department of Recreation and Parks’ Strategic Plan, ballasted by a Board of Trustees vote last year and investments totaling roughly $6.5 million in capital infrastructure improvements to enhance and renovate several dated Garden City facilities in the first three years of the Strategic Plan. But last September 21, Dr. Tony Randi, organizer of the Jay Gallagher Tournament, addressed the Rec. Commission at their monthly meeting about the increased fee. He was joined at the time by Jack and Maggie Biggane of Euston Road, who began their 501c3 nonprofit in memory of daughter Mollie in 2000. Dr. Randi’s comments eight months ago highlighted the chance that exorbitant fees would cause nonprofits to look outside of the village to hold their marquee events, as ends simply would not meet given a future cost structure. The issue was raised before the Rec. Commission again on February 16 when Jill Palmeri and Amy McGoldrick of the Andy Foundation were invited to the monthly meeting by Kevin Ocker, village department head for Recreation and Parks and chair of the Rec. Commission. They discussed fees for the Yard Sale increasing by 800% this year and potentially for a 1600% increase in 2018.

For this weekend’s May 13 event, the Commission decided to offer the Andy Foundation the same discounted package it extended to the Jay Gallagher Lacrosse tournament for 2017, for 50 percent of the targeted fee. But the approved next village budget, taking effect June 1, 2017 and running until May 31, 2018, would cover the target date for next year’s Andy Fund Yard Sale, not the Jay Gallagher Tournament in June 2018.

Both the Bigganes and their supporters as well as the village’s Rec. Commission support investigating the options to offer nonprofits a reduced rate, and that effort will continue throughout summer as the Department of Recreation and Parks will meet with organizers of summer 2018 park and field events (including Dr. Randi) by early fall, September or October, having finalized the 2018 rental rates by then.

Recently the Rec. Commission was instructed to consider the facility fees for nonprofits, after Mayor Brian C. Daughney saw the topic come up at the April 20 meeting the Village Board of Trustees. That night Deborah Hussey, a long time board member of Mollie’s Fund, delivered comments about the fees and the impact on Garden City charities.

The Bigganes were away that week and they were pleased that several voices, including Hussey and Palmeri, addressed the trustees. This month they are back at home in the village to carry out their 17th year working for Mollie’s Fund as May is Melanoma Awareness Month, and traditionally that has included workshops and presentation to Garden City Schools’ students. On May 3 at the Commission meeting, Ocker announced the status of the Andy Fund Yard Sale with permits and venue approved, plus some minor contingencies with the renovated Fieldhouse facility noted with Palmeri and McGoldrick recently. He then spoke about the executive session topic, as the Bigganes sat before the five Rec. Commission members and listened.

“We have an opinion of counsel as it relates to how we charge fees for not for profits. We have been given some direction there and it is not simple by any means. It requires us to do further study into it and for the development of some criteria. State statute limits what we can do for reductions with regard to just for the fact that the organizations are not-for-profits – there are limitations we were advised on by counsel,” Ocker said.

After the Commission meeting ended Ocker told the News village counsel, the firm of Bee, Ready, Fishbein, Hatter & Donovan LLP, advised the village personnel from Recreation and Parks Rec. of potential problems. Commission member Ken Moody said the legal opinion delivered put Recreation on notice “with the way we price it could violate the New York State Constitution.” He told the Bigganes that information needed clarifications before the Rec. Commission deliberates more on this topic, and the Commission and the village must find out if discount levels are legally permissible.

When it was time for public comments Jack Biggane had a series of questions to ask. His first point was to directly ask the Commission, if the discounts were legally permissible would they be in favor of offering that to Garden City nonprofits. From Ocker, Moody and the other Commission members, the response was “yes, that is definitely a possibility.”

Commission member Kristina Russo noted that the Andy Fund and the Jay Gallagher Tournaments did have discounts for their respective 2017 events. She said what’s under review now is how the village as a municipal entity cannot have inconsistent pricing set up for different organizations, regardless if they were in a category of 501c3 nonprofits or not. She said speaking for herself, however, there’s clear motivation to extend discounts to the particular Garden City-based charities.

“If organizations and events layer on the criteria of benefitting the Village of Garden City and serving an important role to the village, that exists as part of the village, then yes – speaking for myself I do think we should consider some alternative pricing. We already have extended the alternative pricing but we are talking about instituting that going forward,” she said.

Her fellow Commission member Tim Stapleford had more encouraging words for the Bigganes.

“With the tone and content of the Commission’s discussions, we are very sympathetic towards the two particular organizations that we have been having these discussions with. Everybody is well aware of all the history, values and great impacts they have had. But I will say based on what we know so far, the discounts currently offered to those organizations are already well in excess of what we have been shown in terms of examples where some discounting has been provided. We are going to be very well-informed going into our discussions on fees for 2018,” Stapleford said.

Jack Biggane thanked Stapleford for his acknowledgement but told him that discounting is relative to prices the Commission establishes in setting rates. Russo said the Commission took a look at existing market rates for facility rentals and came up with Recreation’s identified needs with the Strategic Plan. On May 3 Ocker noted that the Town of Oyster Bay had recently instituted facility rental fees as it faces a huge deficit, and for a more probable comparison to Village of Garden City’s facilities and St. Paul’s, Ocker cited SUNY-Farmingdale’s campus fields. St. Paul’s can accommodate nine different lacrosse fields at once, SUNY Farmingdale can rent 12 fields at once. Ocker says Garden City’s price point is comparable to the college’s rentals. He said that Farmingdale as a campus would have added costs for larger events due to security needs.

Biggane noted that in June the Jay Gallagher Tournament rents all the St. Paul’s fields as well as school district fields for its annual event. While the Commissioners noted that several organizations do the same with St. Paul’s they did not have data on usage of all the village facilities, including the school district’s, during the same event. Ocker said at Farmingdale State University and Nassau County’s public facilities, although they are dispersed more, as other venues on Long Island where comparable sized events are hosted.

“I believe that is an intangible that brings value to St. Paul’s as you can host the tournament there in one location. For event organizers, they love that. It is just a prime spot to them, but we are still gaining experience in what that is worth in the market. We’re getting more experienced every year on that,” Ocker said.

The Commission says some of the for-profit organizations renting all the St. Paul’s fields for their weekend events include National 175 Lacrosse Club, Long Island Pride Lacrosse Club, Franklin Square Lacrosse and Long Island Sharks Lacrosse. After Biggane inquired about frequency of the weekends booked by events on St. Paul’s fields, Moody said the Commission looked into summer schedules and saw that “pretty much every weekend there was somebody asking for the fields.”

Jack Biggane commended Recreation and Parks for the staff efforts each year for the Jay Gallagher weekend, noting the great work for parking, setting up and helping attendees “very politely and efficiently.” He asked what the staff costs are the department usually bears that weekend, and Ocker told him it’s roughly $2,300 for one day.

Stapleford said if the Commission develops a new price schedule for 501c3 nonprofits and the Commission can work within that, he would not want to restrict the Jay Gallagher Tournament’s scheduling based on other events paying the full price and taking priority. He and Biggane agreed that the third weekend of June is a known, circled date on many people’s calendars for the Jay Gallagher.

“The status and ability to do something around the fees is going to stand on its own. Either there is a framework we can get to or not, and that should be separate from scheduling,” Stapleford said.

Commission member Michael Ryder added that field maintenance is another very important consideration at St. Paul’s, and the natural grass should not be ‘beat up all the time.’ Russo said because there are only a certain number of summer weekends the village incurs an opportunity cost because there is no way to add to the inventory of available times.

The Catch-22 the Commission faces today was evident to the Bigganes last week. They nodded as Stapleford referenced the Strategic Plan being a “zerosum game” and the basis for the Board of Trustees to approve all the facility upgrades had them being essentially self-funded through Recreation revenues.

“If fees come down over here we will have to somehow find it someplace else. That’s why we’ve looked so hard at the pool and other things. I encourage everybody to keep in mind all the good with the revamped playgrounds and conditions of ballfields. There is really a lot going on all over town and that’s really a great thing for all village residents. But on the back of that we have had to do things like instituting usage fees for travel teams and clubs and that has not been a part of the equation. Every single fee to use village facilities has been looked at and has gone up, but that’s the situation we are in,” Stapleford said at last week’s meeting. He commented that if other parts of the Strategic Plan were in place years earlier with aging village facilities, the impacts may not have been as stark.

Ryder says the Commission would never want to be setting up cost structures that get involved in funding the events can receive, such as how Dr. Randi and the Jay Gallagher Tournament must ascertain “what they charge and how they get their money,” Ryder told the Bigganes. “How Tony will get there is between him and his group, and if it was a for-profit group they too would figure out what they needed,” he said.

As reported in the March 17 edition of The Garden City News, Ocker previously explained to Palmeri and McGoldrick the way in which the Rec. Commission had to operate and administer the facility/fields fee schedule:

“What we have done now with this board (Rec. Commission) and our 2016- 2020 Strategic Plan, the charitable groups in town no longer fall under that. Everyone that uses the facility pays. We had this conversation in great length with Jay Gallagher (Dr. Randi) too – we truly believe in your causes as individuals serving the community but we do also have to pay our financial responsibility for keeping the plan intact. All the fees and schedules are governed by this board and it is one of the main functions we have had, since its inception. When the Village Board adopted the Strategic Plan it is called out that we are responsible to insure that we’d finance the plan and continue doing the right things,” Ocker said.

On May 3, Ocker added that Recreation and Parks gets no bailout from the general revenues of the Village of Garden City to pay for investments in facilities. He told the Bigganes the $6.5 million of investments into Recreation and Parks facilities from last year to 2018 is comparable to the entire Village of Garden City budgeted capital expenses of $5.5 million. The Strategic Plan serves as a great example of improving the village facilities while working with constrictions imposed by New York State. The same context of state governance holds the potential for any Recreation fee reductions for nonprofits.

“The extremely important point for the Board of Trustees is maintaining the infrastructure at a high level and live within the tax cap placed on them by the state. We have mandated costs to absorb through better ways of operating. It is up to us to solidify the Recreation revenue stream as we move forward. As far as the reduced pricing, we have state statutes that really govern everything. There’s work that has to be done. We are going to take a look at it but it is pretty complex. That is not to say the discussion is over by any means, we will still look into this and see what can be done in the future,” Ocker said.

The Bigganes thanked the Commission for answering their questions and working on the issue, saying that they do “spectacular work” for the village, and their well wishes were reciprocated by the Commission and Recreation and Parks’ staff.

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