A plan to give equal treatment to athletic associations using the city’s public fields has Dunwoody Senior Baseball reeling at the idea of losing its responsibility of managing the new, artificial turf fields at Brook Run Park.
The Dunwoody City Council has proposed an “Athletic Association Manual” to create consistent policies for different organizations that want to use city sports fields. The city would take over maintenance costs with the athletic facilities in exchange for rental fees from the organizations that want to use them. The creation of the manual comes after a city audit found discrepancies on how DSB league officials handle money.
The new rental fees proposed by the city would increase fees for families participating in the league, said DSB President Jerry Weiner said, and he doesn’t think the city would be able to manage the fields as well as DSB.
“We believe we can take every dollar of revenue and return a higher percentage of that to the city than they can themselves,” Weiner told the Dunwoody Homeowners Association during its Oct. 4 meeting.
The proposed agreement
The athletic association manual does not target DSB, city officials said at a Sept. 29 City Council meeting, but instead is a way to formalize agreements with city athletic partners.
“Every other athletic association that we’re partners with has gotten back to the city and had no issue with the document,” Councilmember Tom Lambert said during the Sept. 29 meeting.
The manual has not yet been approved by the council, which planned to have a separate meeting with DSB to work out more details.
The manual outlines different rental prices for four categories. City programs would have no rental fees; recreation leagues and schools would pay $15 an hour; nonprofits and churches would pay $100 an hour; and businesses would pay $850 for a half-day and would not have an hourly rate.
Right now, DSB does not pay anything to use the fields and also lets the Dunwoody cluster schools use the fields for free, Weiner said.
The role of the city is to facilitate the agreements and permits for people and organizations to use the fields as well as manage utilities and clean the restrooms, according to the manual. The role of the athletic associations using the fields would be to provide the city with its schedule of games and practices, make sure everyone follows the facility rules and maintain the fields based on the existing Field Usage Agreement.
City approval would be required for all tournaments and would collect rental fees from those tournaments, according to the manual. Organizations using the fields are not allowed to charge gate fees for city residents or during tournaments.
City officials said those rules aim to make athletic fields more available for residents who want to use them and will make sure the city has the revenue to maintain and replace the fields as needed.
“We have the best athletic facilities in the Southeast region right now,” said Lambert, referring to the artificial turf baseball fields at Brook Run Park that DSB uses. “They are in high demand. They’re not free, and they come with a cost to repair.”
The manual was requested by Mayor Lynn Deutsch and created by staff with Lambert and Councilmember Stacey Harris, according to a staff memo.
Weiner said DSB takes full responsibility for those fields and would help the city pay to replace the artificial turf when it’s needed. The ball fields opened in 2018 and cost about $7 million in city funds.
The fields were built in an area between Brook Run Park and Peachtree Charter Middle School after the city swapped the Dunwoody Park fields with the DeKalb County School District to build a new Austin Elementary School.
City officials see the manual as a long-term solution to protecting public fields.
“If we want to continue the quality of the fields, we owe it to future councils to make sure we have money in the bank,” Deutsch said.
DSB has been managing the city fields for 46 years, Weiner said.
“We manage those fields not because we want to make more money, but because we feel a responsibility to manage those fields,” Weiner told the council. “This isn’t anything new to us.”
Weiner told the DHA he would like to see the city charge rental fees per player instead of per hour. He would also like DSB to keep paying utilities on the baseball fields and would give the city 75% of net tournament revenue for turf repair and other capital improvements.
Weiner said DSB would build in time for public use of the fields and want to continue to manage the league’s schedule and tournaments as they already do.
“They want uniformity,” Weiner told the DHA. “In one sense I get that. But in the other sense, I would say that not all of us are the same. We can’t play baseball on rectangle fields.”
DHA President Adrienne Duncan said the city’s “one size fits all” approach is a “pattern.” DHA members expressed support for DSB continuing to manage the fields as they have been.
“I think that baseball fields should be treated separately because they are programming partners and caretakers wrapped together,” DHA member and former council member Terry Nall said.
An ongoing debate
The use of the baseball fields has been an ongoing debate in the city because some say there wasn’t enough public use on the tax-funded fields. DSB says that tournaments that bring in outside players provide the city with valuable sports tourism that helps city restaurants and other businesses.
City officials said they appreciate the tournaments but want to make sure the residents also get to use the facilities.
The manual proposal comes after the city conducted an audit of DSB’s finances earlier this year, which found problems with its record keeping.
The audit revealed some DSB board members can purchase items, deposit money, record revenue and issue checks – including to themselves — without internal oversight.
Bill Mulcahy, who conducted the audit, told the council in February that he asked DSB for bank account information but never received it. A written policy on how revenues are determined was not made available. DSB rents out the fields to different leagues to hold tournaments on the fields, but they pay only after play is finished. A list of unpaid tournament fees was also not available, Mulcahy said.
When the artificial turf fields at Brook Run Park opened in 2018, DSB and the city agreed that the organization would help pay for the upkeep of the fields.
The 2018 facilities agreement included a revenue-sharing provision in which DSB would pay the city 10% of its net annual revenues generated by tournament rental fees if the amount is less than $100,000, and 15% if the net annual revenues were more than $100,000. The money is to go into a fund that would cover future maintenance costs, including replacing the turf fields in 10 years or so.
DSB is not following that formula as it was written in the agreement, Mulcahy said, and last year the league paid the city nothing. He said DSB’s financial books are “not understandable.”
DSB officials argued the audit was based on faulty calculations and presents a misleading picture of how the league operates.
Harris said during the Sept. 29 meeting that the audit was “an embarrassment” to the city and showed a need for the proposed manual.