Community groups feel pinch from rising rental fees
When the Old Rochester Regional Travel Basketball Association got a rental bill from the Old Rochester Regional School District, it found the cost had gone up by more than $10,000 from last school year.
The organization’s director, Greg Yeomans, and many of the board members appeared at the Sept. 11 Old Rochester Regional District School Committee meeting to discuss the increase. As a result, the school committee reduced the group’s fee for this year and agreed to look into its rental policy — but not until after a spirited discussion of school costs and funding.
ORR Travel Basketball Association provides a full-season competitive basketball program for roughly 113 boys and girls from Grades 4 to 8.
In 2015, the association worked out a three-year agreement with the school to pay fees on an escalating basis, with $500 increases each year. That agreement had the basketball program paying $7,500 to rent gym space last year.
When that agreement expired, the school started charging the program under its $150-per-session policy — for a grand total of $18,000.
“We have grown, but not to the point where we could afford an $18,000 bill,” Yeomans said.
Superintendent Doug White said that the school currently charges community organizations that want to rent the space $100 for facility use and $50 for utilities.
White noted that, since that is a flat per-session fee, “The amount of time that they have on Saturday [9.5 hours] is being billed much less than Monday through Friday,” when the team only uses the building for four hours. On the other hand, he acknowledged that “if the building is open and covered, the travel team “shouldn’t have to cover the cost.”
The superintendent pointed out that the current policy “is really made for a one-time use.”
Committee member Joseph Pires said the school should continue in the spirit of the previous agreement it had with the travel league.
“There was an upfront agreement that was made in regards to usage fees between the Old Rochester Travel Basketball Association and ORR. That agreement needs to be honored,” Pires said.
“We need to look at Mr. Yeomans and the Old Rochester Travel Basketball Association as one of our partners, as this program supports over 90 percent of our students that are directly from the Tri-Town. This program fills a void for youth sports in a younger age group within our community,” he added.
In a comment that recalled voters’ recent rejection of a proposal to temporarily raise taxes to pay for athletic field and auditorium improvements at the high school, committee member Heather Burke said school committee members “have been told consistently over the last 9 months that taxpayers in the tri-town only want to fund this facility during the school day. . . We would like to allow community groups to use the space for low or no-cost, but we do not have the budget.”
Burke said the school is “the highest-used facility in the tri-town . . . It has not been invested in properly for 10 or 15 years. There is no magic wand we can wave to fix things. It needs to be invested in.”
Committee member Tina Rood pointed out that any fees charged to the youth league “go back into the operating budget. They’re not being used to improve the space.” The only way to raise funds to improve the space “is when we ask the towns to raise those funds.”
Burke also pointed out that the rental fees do not account for wear and tear on the building.
Another committee member, Jim Muse, called for a more careful look into what it does cost to open the building.
White still seemed to have some reservations about the community group using the space at a lower rate. He noted that the high school budget is “not even covering the cost of our own athletic programs,” which must be supplemented with student fees.
In the end, the school committee approved an $8,000 fee for the travel league for this school year, and promised to revisit the rental policy this year.