Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Who is stealing?

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City councillors have not been very helpful in explaining the rationale for doubling the rental costs for athletic fields. Officially, the increase is being blamed on a mysterious collection of scofflaws who are using some of the city's 600 athletic fields without paying.

Council requested the increase without knowing much about the problem, or how serious it might be.

There are undoubtedly some loosely organized groups that simply show up in city parks and start playing soccer, ultimate frisbee, football or some other field game without renting the field, but they invariably leave when an authorized club shows up to play.

In approving the 2013 operating budget, council merely said it was raising fees to $74 from $34 per single rental to pay for more enforcement, but it's a disingenuous argument.

The Manitoba Organization of Disc Sports, for example, leases eight athletic fields at Maple Grove Park, which it maintains and manages at no charge to the city. Ultimate frisbee is so popular, in fact, that the organization has been unable to rent additional space from the city.

But if the city is so overbooked that it can't rent additional fields for disc sports, how can it then say someone is stealing by using the space for free? The city, moreover, is only budgeting $45,000 for enforcement, which will be used to determine the extent of the problem, a classic case of putting the cart before the horse.

The extra fee might not sound like a fortune -- it's about $1 per player per game day -- but it adds up over the season. More to the point, the increase appears to be merely another attempt to boost revenues, or perhaps to levy a fee that the city believes reflects its own costs.

User fee increases are not unusual, but a 100 per cent hike is, particularly at a time when health officials are stressing the need for people to be more active. The councillors who wanted this increase should have been more candid and honest with taxpayers, rather than passing it off as a noble attempt to level the field.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 2, 2013 A14

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