Weatherford Democrat

September 28, 2011

City denies WLL request

Council members agree finances too tight, approve new budget

Crystal Brown
Weatherford Democrat

WEATHERFORD — Within the same hour, the Weatherford City Council approved the 2011-12 budget and turned down a request from the Weatherford Little League for the city to take out a $500,000 loan.

For the past month, the little league program has worked to raise funds for a new lighting system at the city-owned fields adjacent to the Weatherford Public Library. A complaint filed by an umpire following a district game on Carmichael Field in July revealed the lights were not bright enough to meet the Little League International standards, and the fields could not be used for tournaments.

After new bulbs did not alleviate the problem, the city shut off the lights to prevent any night play.

According to Little League International regulations, any updates made to a field require all lighting on that field to be brought to current standards. This means replacing the outdated wooden poles, which the international organization banned in 1994, with steel ones. New electrical lines are also needed.

Jeff Ford, Weatherford Little League president, approached the city council at an earlier meeting requesting the city take out a 10-year loan for the $500,000 needed to light all seven fields. The league would then pay the city back.

Ford said this is the best financing offer they have found, and it would keep the volunteer organization’s cost to about $50,000 a year rather than $100,000 a year if they have to finance it on their own with a five-year loan.

But putting the burden on the back of tax payers didn’t bode well with council members who just approved another budget under difficult financial circumstances.

“The City of Weatherford has supported little league for many, many years, further than the records indicate,” Council member Waymon Hamilton said. “We have money problems just like everyone else has. We don’t have $500,000 to spend on lighting whether we need it or not.”

Ford has visited several civic organizations over the past three weeks and from those visits, along with some large individual donations, Weatherford Little League has raised about $70,000. They need an additional $55,000 by the end of this week to put a down payment on the lights.

The condensed time line is due to the February start date for ball players. The time needed to receive and construct the light system, if ordered now, would have the lights up and running for the beginning of play next year.

Weatherford Little League volunteers will continue to seek donations, apply for grants and research financing options now that they know the city cannot help them. They have also increased sponsorship levels at the ball fields up to $15,000.

Other options are to limit the number of fields they light or sign a waiver with the city to leave some of the fields at inadequate lighting with the understanding that tournaments can’t occur on those fields.

City Attorney Ed Zellers said even with a waiver, the city could potentially be named in a lawsuit if someone were hurt on a field with poor lighting.

“You’ve got to consider the risk,” Zellers said. “A T-ball field, the kids are losing the ball because of light. It’s a matter of weighing the risks.”

The city could bring the cost of the project down by about $80,000 by installing the new electrical system inhouse. Assistant City Manager Sharon Hayes said that is not in the utility department’s budget, but they could come up with the funds by delaying other projects.

Council member Heidi Wilder said she doesn’t like seeing projects that have been on the books for years being put off time and time again. The council made no final decision on helping with the electrical system.

In other business the council:

• Approved final amendments to the 2010-11 budget.

• Approved the fiscal year 2011-12 budget, which goes into effect Saturday.

• Ratified a property tax revenue increase of $5,778. While pre-existing property values dropped in appraisal, new property added offset the loss to create an overall gain in tax revenue.

• Approved the 2011 tax rate of 46.36 cents per $100 valuation. This is the third year for this tax rate.

nHeld the first of two public hearings on a voluntary annexation of 76.05 acres adjacent to FM 51 north of which 19.52 acres are city owned. No one spoke at the hearing. The second hearing is set for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 11.

• Authorized the city manager to approve a supplemental agreement with Dannenbaum Engineering Corporation for engineering services needed to incorporate bicycle and pedestrian accommodations into the frontage road designs between Bethel Road and South Bowie Drive. State guidelines have changed since the city initially had the design plans made and must incorporate this change per state requirements. The cost of this change is about $72,000.

• Appointed veterinarian Kent Glenn to the animal shelter advisory committee.