Margate Little League’s president said the group will rework its lease and contract with the city for its batting cage after questions were raised about compliance with state Green Acres regulations.
But a local citizens group said they still have concerns over not only the lease, but the donations from the city to the league of as much as $5,000 a year for several years and how the league has handled the money.
In a letter to the city, state Department of Environmental Protection and Green Acres representative Jessica Patterson stated that even though the Jerome Avenue ballfield was not funded by Green Acres until 2008, it was listed on the city’s Recreation and Open Space Inventory as unfunded parkland — and was therefore subject to Green Acres requirements.
Patterson said that the batting cage facility, built between 2007 and 2009, was not properly approved, and neither was the league’s 50-year lease with the city at $1 per year.
Margate Little League President Michael Busler said that the league financed the batting cage building on its own, through donations and financing.
“We entered into a lease agreement on good faith from both sides, and did what we thought was the proper way to do things,” Busler said. After a meeting with the city last week, “We realized the contract was not written properly, and a new contract would have to be signed by both parties consistent with Green Acres regulations.”
Among the changes would be clarifying that the batting cage is open to the public and negotiating a shorter-term lease and larger annual payment.
Joan Naden, a member of the Concerned Citizens of Margate, said in an email that all funds raised on Green Acres parkland must be deposited in a special municipal trust account used only for operating, maintaining or making capital improvements, and “this has certainly not been the case.”
“Little League has been depositing funds received from batting cage fees, signs rented to advertisers, concession stand receipts, sponsorships by businesses, and program fees into their own bank account” Naden said. “Our OPRA requests proved that not only had the City been donating $5,000 per year to the nonprofit Little League, but also had been absorbing many of the maintenance and operating costs of the batting cages. Even under the terms of the invalid lease, the league was responsible for paying these costs, not the city.”
Busler said that the city’s donations originally helped to pay off the cost of installing lights for night ballgames.
The annual donations have since been reduced by Public Works Commissioner Brenda Taube to $2,500 a year, which “enables us to keep the cost of little league registration down for residents,” Busler said. “Some cities charge as much as $50 to $60, we try to keep our fee at around $25 to $30.”
Taube said that upon learning of the annual donations when she took office in 2011, “I questioned it. I was told it was for uniforms and things of that nature, but I didn’t feel confident doing that. ... We couldn’t (keep donating) $5,000 just because that was the way we’ve always done it.”
She also said she hopes to eventually end the donations entirely. She added that any revenue generated by the recreation fields or facilities should also go back to the city, as Green Acres regulations require.
“I don’t want to come across as anti-Margate Little League, because I’m not,” Taube said. “The whole complex is a mainstay of Margate and will continue to be. But procedurally, we want to button things up and do things right, now and in the future.”
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