The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has defeated a plan to eliminate a $5.50-a-player fee that will be charged annually to youth and adult sports leagues beginning this fall.
Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully), backed by leaders of the county's sports leagues, had proposed taking $1.7 million from increases in the cigarette and recordation taxes to offset the new athletic "application" fee. That amount is what the fee is expected to generate for community and recreation programs.
But board members voted Monday night to reject Frey's plan, saying they had promised voters last fall they would lower property taxes if additional revenue could be found. The board then approved an increase in cigarette taxes to 20 cents a pack and a hike in fees for recording deeds from 4 cents to 8.3 cents for each $100 of assessed value, which is estimated to bring in as much as $11.5 million during the current fiscal year. Next year the cigarette tax jumps to 30 cents a pack.
Sports groups now face the prospect of raising fees and/or deferring field and gym maintenance to cover the cost of the athletic fee.
Frey said some sports league officials have told him they now might choose to put off maintenance of fields, which could mean some ballfields would have to be shut down if they are unusable. He also argued that higher fees could discourage kids from participating in sports in a county trying to keep youths out of gangs.
Mark Meana, chairman of the Fairfax County Youth Football League board of commissioners, which represents about 5,000 players, said after the vote that he fears some sports groups will use the fee as a way to collect higher registration fees beyond the $5.50.
He also noted that the Virginia General Assembly voted to allow the county to increase the cigarette and deed taxes after county officials had approved Fairfax's budget for this year. Since the $11.5 million is new money, Meana said, the county should wipe out the athletic fee.
"They got more money [from the General Assembly], so the urgency to keep this [athletic] tax is gone," he said.
Bruce Hall, chairman of Reston Youth Baseball, pointedly told board members that if they could not find the money to wipe out the athletic fee, they should send letters or e-mails to parents asking for the increase. "We don't collect taxes," he said of youth sports leagues.
Supervisor Sharon S. Bulova (D-Braddock), chairman of the board's Budget Committee, called the $5.50 charge "minuscule" compared with the fees the county's sports organizations ask participants to pay. She defended the board's decision to use the additional cigarette and deed money on property tax relief.
"The real estate tax more than anything takes money out of family's pockets," Bulova said, countering sports leaders' charges that the board was hurting families by assessing the athletic fee.
Frey said that using $1.7 million of the new revenue to help the county's sports groups was not that much money considering how many people would be affected. The sports groups have been sending e-mails to their thousands of participants notifying them of the fee.
Meana said, "The money is there if you want to go look for it."
Board Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) said, "It's easy for someone to say it's not a large source of revenue. But every little bit helps."