Parks and Rec to charge fee for use of Joe O'Brien field

By Julie Fann
star staff

After considering fees charged by area baseball fields, the Elizabethton Parks and Recreation board decided on Monday, in a close 3-2 vote, to charge a fee to outside users of Joe O'Brien field. The fee, $200 per game without lights, and $300 with lights, is based on the Bristol Parks and Recreation fee for use of its minor league field.
   "This has been a touchy issue in many ways. The average person doesn't understand how much time and effort goes into taking care of a baseball field," said Parks and Recreation Director Mike Mains. The board agreed to discuss details such as contract development, guidelines and policies at its next monthly meeting.
   Mains presented the board with an overview of fees charged by area cities to help them reach a decision. Mains said the Johnson City Cardinals charge a fee of $500 per game without lights and $600 with lights; Kingsport's Wright's stadium charges $50 per game without lights and $100 per game with lights, and Bristol charges an even per game fee of $200. At the beginning of the meeting, Mains said he thought it would be reasonable to charge a fee similar to the Kingsport model.
   The board then considered several factors contributing to the need for a fee, such as the cost to the park per game, clean up costs, and a lack of profit from concessions. Mains explained that, while Kingsport's field profits from regular concessions at games, Elizabethton doesn't have the staff to operate its concession stand.
   David Ornduff, Director of Planning and Development, spoke on behalf of the city. "The city council has been gracious. Mike and his gang have done an excellent job. In view of the budget crunch, there needs to be a balance of some kind to make sure that we break even on this," he said.
   Mains said the cost to the park per game could be divided into the price of a bag of chalk, which is $4.50, the hourly employee rate of $6.50-$7, and the cost of lights for 2.5 to 3 hours. Mains said he would need to talk to the Elizabethton Electric System to get an estimate on the cost of electricity for a game.
   Mains also said that the only outside requests to use the field had come from Unaka High School and University High for their tournaments. Other than that, schools such as Milligan College had made few requests in the past. Mains said he would make sure that the excellent condition of the field would be protected.
   Another board member said it was important to consider limited school budgets for paying a fee to use the field. Before the vote was cast, Parks and Recreation board chairman, Bill McClay, said he felt the $200 per game fee was unreasonable and that he felt it would be best to stick with the Kingsport model. Three out of the five board members disagreed with him.
   The board also discussed a recent act of vandalism that occurred at Riverside Park last Wednesday. Mains said that $400 worth of plants had been pulled up by the roots and confiscated. He said the Elizabethton Police Department had interviewed him about the incident. "So now I guess someone has plenty of plants in their backyard," he said.