If last week’s reaction to a proposal by Brookfield’s new recreation director to charge organizations for use of village-owned ballfields is any indication, there’s unlikely to be any such policy coming in the near future.
But the village may begin to break the strong control organizations like Brookfield Little League and Western Conference Baseball exercise over those ballfields with a parallel proposal to have leagues sign agreements outlining their responsibilities as well as the village’s.
Recreation Director Stevie Ferrari and Village Manager Timothy Wiberg were both taken aback at how much clout the leagues have when it comes to control of those fields. For decades the village ceded virtual control of the ballfields to the leagues, which in exchange maintained and improved them – keeping them off limits to anyone else who wanted to use them.
The argument that such an arrangement makes sense, however, fails when you look at how other municipalities work together with similar leagues. Riverside charges Little League for use of village-owned fields, and Little League continues to contribute volunteer maintenance and money for field renovation.
While North Riverside handles routine field maintenance, the Little League there also contributes money that goes toward field improvements above and beyond that.
Put another way, the volunteer spirit of Brookfield Little League, while wholly commendable and appreciated, isn’t unique. And yet, in other towns, the local Little Leagues very clearly don’t assume any actual ownership of the property.
The ballfields, like the rest of the park land in Brookfield, is owned by the village, which has pumped millions of dollars through the years into its parks – buying property and improving it for the benefit of all Brookfield residents.
The village needs to be able to sensibly outline how and when park land can be used by outside organizations – whose numbers continue to grow and whose dedication to maintaining and paying for improvements to the parks is not equal.
Certainly a tiered fee structure (even some sort of flat rate) makes sense and provides a way for the village to recoup its costs for providing and maintaining the parks around the fields, actions the leagues also benefit from.
At the very least, the village and its partner organizations like Brookfield Little League need to formalize who is responsible for what and making clear just who controls what aspects of the operation.
It’s probably going to take some time for the village to begin reasserting its ownership of the village’s ballfields given the history and still strong emotional attachments to doing things the way they’ve always been done.
But, with new leadership inside village hall, with personal involvement in “the old way” standing in the way, now is the right time to begin moving Brookfield Parks and Rec into the 21st century.