POLITICS
02/26/2012 01:52 EST | Updated 04/27/2012 05:12 EDT

Toronto Recreation Leagues Blindsided By New City Fees Added 'Without Any Warning'

TORONTO - Youth sports leagues in Toronto are crying foul after being slapped with new municipal user fees they say could compromise the upcoming season.

The Toronto Baseball Association, which represents the city's amateur leagues, says fees to use outdoor fields were tacked on after registration began.

Organizers have been forced to ask parents for more money _ about $100 extra per child _ to cover the bill, even as they slash practice time to cut costs, says the association's president, David Black.

"It's one thing if you have one child, but when you have two or three, this can really have a significant impact," he says.

"What we'll see in economically challenged areas of the city... we'll see player counts drop," he says.

Toronto city council voted last month to charge hourly user fees for athletic fields that have been available for free for years.

Booking the fields now costs between $5 and $11 per hour before tax, a change officials expect will pour $1.5 million into city coffers this year.

User fees were proposed as a means to boost city revenue in the controversial 2012 budget, which saw months of debate over services cuts.

City staff have argued the cost will keep leagues from overbooking the fields and free up space for less established organizations.

"With the implementation of these new fees, it is estimated that some groups will turn back a substantial proportion of their historical usage and some will return over half their hours," administrators wrote in a briefing note earlier this month.

The document notes the change should lead to price increases of up to $35 per player in house league baseball and up to $15 per player for youth soccer.

But Black says those calculations are based on the lowest hourly rate and assume leagues will give up most of their practice time.

Hank Weinstein of the North York Baseball Association says his league won't hike up prices for players on such short notice and will simply have to eat the costs.

That will drain funds typically reserved for sprucing up the fields, he says, noting the association has spent thousands on maintenance equipment over the years.

"If we got notice, we would still have difficulties, but we could deal with it," says Weinstein, who serves as the league's treasurer.

He's hoping the city will roll back the fees for now and start phasing them in gently next year.