Controversy in a New York town has risen over which youth sports organizations get to use a soccer complex that is both publicly and privately funded.
Currently, the Mighty Midgets, a local team that also has a World Class FC flagship program, gets priority use of the complex due to a 2005 land-use agreement with the town. The program invested $3 million into the complex for synthetic turf fields, lighting and the renovation of an old barn on the property that is now the Mighty Midget's clubhouse and office. The club also spends $200,000 per year to maintain the complex.
Despite the investment the team puts into the complex, it is in violation of a town policy that requires at least 85 percent of an organization's participants to be Orangetown residents in order to qualify for permits for town fields. Only 70 percent of Mighty Midgets team members are from Orangetown, which has another Orangetown travel soccer organization, Rockland FC, asking questions.
Rockland officials says the team has not been able to get scheduled time for practice and games at the complex and is upset that nonresidents are getting more field use.
“I know OMM put money into those fields, but we bought the dirt they built those fields on,” said Rockland FC president Manny Lenares. “That dirt was for the use of the community, not for people throughout the tri-state area.”
The Mighty Midgets are anticipating an increase in the number of participants from Orangetown due to a new tier of travel teams the club is implementing. Even with an increase in Orangetown participants, however, Mighty Midgets board member Gordon Miller projects that it will only bring the local participation number to 72 percent, which is still below the 85 percent requirement.
This issue brings a challenge to Orangetown officials as the fall season approaches. The town's parks and recreation department would be responsible for enforcing the violations, which could prohibit a team from playing at the complex or charge higher fees for its use.
Despite the apparent violations, it appears there is little motivation on the part of town officials to do anything about them. The Orangetown Recreation Advisory Committee is discussing proposals to lower resident participation to 65 percent. Town leaders also must decide to what extent the complex is shared with youth from other towns.
Town supervisor Andy Stewart said, "We are engaged in a fluid conversation, with multiple conversations all clustered in different ways. It’s an issue where fairness is paramount in prioritizing town residents and making sure that our youth sports groups are accommodated, for both residents and non-residents. We don’t want to kick anyone off the fields."
Further complicating the situation are some political affiliations that could sway decisions. Both Stewart and councilman Tom Diviny have Mighty Midgets sponsorship banners hanging from the fence at the soccer complex. Additionally, the husband of Mighty Midgets president Kerry Beckmann, William Beckmann, is the chair of the town Conservative Committee, which has endorsed four of the five Town Board members in previous elections.
Diviny commented on the situation saying, "We’ve been going back and forth for four months. There are two organizations that provide services the town needs, and you have to balance the equities. You have one organization that spent millions to build the complex."