Lights out at Lane? Budget cuts hurt boys of summer
It was a beautiful day for the Lane Babe Ruth League’s 52nd opening ceremony on Saturday, April 3. Dozens of 13-15-year old boys lined up in the infield in their crisp white pants and colorful shirts, the Boy Scouts raised the American flag, and two Albemarle High School girls sang the National Anthem. But an otherwise perfect day for baseball was marred this year by the County’s budget woes.
“There’s a storm cloud gathering over the county office building,” League president Shannon Wilder told the crowd, turning a typically brief opening statement into a plea for help, “but we’re not going to let it rain on the Lane League.”
Just two weeks ago, Wilder said, the County informed the league that it would no longer be paying the electricity bill for the field lights as of July 1, an expense the County has been covering since the lights were installed by the Lane League in the early 1990s. The news came as a shock to Wilder and the League, which operates on a shoe-string budget and depends heavily on volunteers.
According to Wilder, the County estimated it costs around $5,300 a year to light the field. While that’s a tiny percentage of the County’s proposed $294 million budget, Wilder says that figure represents 10 percent of the League’s annual budget.
Wilder was one of many to address the Board of Supervisors last week as they consider $10 million in spending cuts, but compared to the millions that County schools stand to lose, or some of the essential services that will need to be trimmed, he admits that his plea for the lights “kind of paled in comparison.”
Still, Wilder questions the short notice, and the decision to put such a long-running service to area youth in jeopardy to save so little money. This Spring, 125 boys signed up for Lane to create 10 teams, and Wilder expects the same number for the Fall ball season. In addition, Lane sponsors a summer senior league for around 80 16-19-year olds.
“The county is doing the right thing by not raising taxes, and cutting spending,” said Wilder, “but they are essentially asking us to “raise taxes” by increasing registration fees.”
County Parks and Recreation director Pat Mullaney, who recommended the cut, says he realizes that the short notice presents a problem for the Lane League, but justifies the cut by pointing out that because the League has exclusive use of the field, the cost of the lighting should be borne by those who benefit.
However, as local architect and Lane Dad Keith Scott points out, Lane is the only Babe Ruth facility in the City or County, and therefore provides 13-15 year old boys who are too old for Little League or not quite ready for High School play their only opportunity to play baseball. What’s more, says Scott, the lights at Lane allow the field to be used day and night, eliminating need for the County to provide additional field space.
“The $5,000 expense out of the County budget seems like a small price to pay to keep the Babe Ruth baseball league thriving with such limited facilities,” says Scott.
Mullaney says they don’t plan on leaving the League in the lurch.
“We’re in discussion with the Lane League on an agreement where they pay for the lights and in return we will help with emergency or unanticipated repairs to the facility since it is County owned,” say Mullaney. “ In fact, we just agreed to pay a plumbing repair bill which will more than fund the lights for the remainder of this season.”
Indeed, Wilder told the crowd Saturday that the County had generously offered to take over capital repairs. However, he pointed out that those were one-time costs, whereas the $5,300 for lighting would have to be absorbed every year.
“If we lose one young player because of increased registration fees,” Wilder told the crowd on Saturday, “that’s one too many.”