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Originally published Friday, February 18, 2011 at 3:59 PM

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Guest columnist

Seattle makes bad call by doubling youth baseball field rents

The city of Seattle has surprised nonprofit youth baseball leagues by accelerating baseball field permit increases — one league expecting to pay $18,000 got a bill for $43,000. Guest columnists Dave Root and Eric Olson urge the Seattle City Council to reconsider this bad call.

Special to The Times

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;

The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;

And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;

But there is no joy in Seattle —

Our City Council has struck out.

WITH apologies to Ernst Lawrence Thayers, author of the epic poem "Casey at the Bat," many Seattleites who give tens of thousands of volunteer hours coaching and administering youth athletic leagues are deeply troubled by a recent City Council action. The rents charged to play baseball, soccer and other games on city fields are more than doubling. One youth baseball league's field permit budget was set at $18,000; the city permit cost quote was $43,000.

The first many of our associations learned of this steep increase was when the bill arrived.

Under the circumstances, we hope council members will reverse their call.

As nonprofit organizations that stretch our budgets by selling coffee, raffling off prizes and taking advantage of our volunteers' time, we recognize the financial difficulties facing local government. These are not flush times for anybody. We know the city isn't sitting on cash reserves — and neither are our organizations. Open our books and you'll see there's no extra money to meet an unexpected expense like this one.

We work closely with the city's Parks and Recreation Department and are honestly baffled that notice was not given. We understand now that the City Council decided to raise the rent to 2012 levels, forgoing a smaller increase proposed by Parks and Recreation for this year. We put together our budgets based on projected 2011 numbers.

My oh my!

Frankly, our gut reaction when we saw the rent hike was a bit like Lou Piniella after a blown call: We got all red in the face, ready to charge the ump, get in his grill and kick some dirt on the City Council's home plate. But we've been around long enough to know that all that bad behavior gets you is tossed out of the game.

So our associations hope council members are willing to play ball with us. We'd like to:

• Meet with council budget writers to explain our concerns;

• See if it isn't possible to roll back the rent increases to levels originally proposed by Parks and Recreation for 2011, the numbers on which our organizations based our annual budgets; and,

• Agree to continue talking so things like this can be avoided in the future.

Eventually, our associations have to pass added expenses like these on to parents and their kids who play ball. We can offer some scholarships to those who can't afford it. But what we've seen over the past three years of the Great Recession is that Mom and Dad are trimming their budgets, too. We're losing kids and fundraising will get us only so far.

We believe youth sports organizations like ours are important to a city's health. The volunteers who run them almost all have school-age children. It's why we do it. We vote yes on education and family and recreation levies because we believe good schools and parks are essential to a great community. We're team players proud to have "SEATTLE" emblazoned across our jerseys.

Here's something to weigh: In November, Seattle voters will be asked to reauthorize the Family and Education Levy. Couldn't we at least consider postponing the increase of field rents to 2012 levels until we learn the levy's fate? Its passage would change the city's budget picture. Organizations like ours could then stay within their approved 2011 budgets and be better prepared to absorb more gradual future rent increases.

When kids strike out, we tell them to keep their heads up — in baseball there's always the next at bat. On the question of field rentals, we believe the City Council took a called third strike. It happens. Council members need to get back in the batter's box and take another swing at this issue.

Dave Root is president of the North Seattle Baseball Association. Eric Olson is president of West Seattle Pee Wee Baseball.

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