The term “historic” might be a bit of an overstatement, but certainly the Brookfield Department of Parks and Recreation ushered in a new era of municipal oversight with respect to power users of its athletic fields earlier this month, inking a field-usage and maintenance agreement with the Western Conference/Brookfield Babe Ruth Baseball League.
The agreement, which designates the league a “community partner” because less than 75 percent of its participants are Brookfield residents, formally outlines the responsibilities both the village and the league have with respect to field usage and maintenance – from who pays for equipment and supplies and who can use them to who does routine field upkeep to financial transparency.
“It’s a fiscal responsibility we have as a village, without dropping the support or legacy these groups have,” said Stevie Ferrari, director of the Department of Parks and Recreation. “We have to let go of the nostalgia a bit and talk about what we’re going to do in the future.”
The main issue was something Ferrari had never encountered before in her years as a municipal recreation official: Baseball leagues in Brookfield, particularly the local Little League organization, claimed ball fields as their own.
The argument was that they provided the maintenance and funded improvement projects, so that gave them control over usage, to the point that they locked the gates to the fields to keep others – even those participating in the village’s own summer day camps – from using them.
“There was no request for usage or for doing large capital improvements or small maintenance projects,” Ferrari said. “Individual organizations were operating as if it was their owned property.”
In October 2019, Ferrari suggested to elected officials that the village ought to have formal agreements with large users such as Little League, Western Conference and AYSO soccer.
While organizations have proven valuable partners over the years and have contributed financially and otherwise, the village also pays for things like utilities and public works labor and needs to make sure access to park property is equitable, Ferrari argued.
Initially, she suggested charging organizations an hourly rate for field usage, but pushback was immediate and emotional – even from elected officials.
“I was a little surprised at the emotions it stirred,” Ferrari said. “This is not a new process anywhere I’ve worked.”
After months of negotiations, she was able to come to an agreement with Western Conference, a youth baseball league for players from 12 to 18 years old. The league’s home field is the full-size baseball diamond at Ehlert Park.
In exchange for retaining priority scheduling for the ball field, the league will not have to pay a fee for field usage. The league volunteers’ sweat equity maintaining fields will be credited to that end.
The league is also responsible for purchasing equipment related to all field maintenance and operations of the concession stand, and the village has the right to use that field maintenance equipment and supplies for scheduled Parks and Rec activities and for field rentals by third parties.
The league does not have to pay utility costs, but that could change in the future after both parties assess the current agreement at the end of the 2021 season.
The agreement also requires the league to show its financial books to the village, both budgets and an annual financial report.
According to Ferrari, the path toward a formal agreement with Western Conference triggered a restructuring of that organization’s leadership. The new president, Greg Boswell, called the agreement a “win-win” for both the village and the league.
“We have worked hand in hand this year with making sure Stevie had our full schedule so they could rent out the field to outside organizations on days we were not using the field,” Boswell said in an email. “Western Conference and the village have come a long way in the last year and a half. I look forward to working with Stevie and the village in the future.”
While a formal agreement with Brookfield Little League is still being finalized, Ferrari said the league for the first time has agreed to pay electricity and water fees for their use of fields and the concession stands at Kiwanis and Ehlert parks.
Brookfield Little League would be considered an “affiliate organization” under the new structure, since almost all of the league’s participants are Brookfield residents.
Starting earlier this year, the Parks and Recreation Department for the first time started charging other nonprofit and for-profit organizations, such as travel baseball teams and AYSO soccer an hourly rate for field usage.
While less than 50 percent of its participants are Brookfield residents, AYSO might be in the running for a more formal arrangement with the village in the future if, for example, the league wants to partner with the village on field improvement projects.