Toronto sports leagues for children and youth will pay new fees to use city fields next year, but the rates will be lower than first proposed and come with a promise to improve upkeep.
City council approved a new, phased-in fee schedule Thursday after months of consultations with local leagues who rebelled against the new charges, originally set to take effect this year.
"We are going to work together, [city staff] are going to make things better and we are going to see change," said Councillor Janet Davis, who helped craft the compromise on the new fees. "This is a big victory for kids and sports organizations and the city," she said.
At the centre of the dispute was a plan by the city to begin charging fees to youth leagues for the use of city fields. That plan was designed to increase city revenue as part of a new user-fee policy. It enraged sports organizations who said they were never consulted on the policy and found out too late about the charges to include them in this season's registration fees. Groups also complained that none of the fees would go to improving maintenance of the fields, with many saying they devoted their own time and money to making the city-owned sites suitable for use.
Supporters of the new fees argued many groups booked up playing fields when they were not needed because they were free.
Under the new plan, groups will be charged $3 an hour to use the city's top "A" fields, $2 for "B" fields and $1 for "C" fields. Those rates will double in 2014, but only if the city implements its plan to improve field maintenance.
The use of rinks or "dry pads" in the summer will remain free. All fees collected will go to maintaining fields, rather than to general city revenues as was first planned.
Staff also were asked to establish a policy for waiving fees to ensure that the fields are accessible.
"We are really at the beginning of the process," Ms. Davis said. The debate, she said, "woke the city up," to the need to work with local groups to maintaining city playing fields.