By Judy Stearns.
The Gazette had reported in its March 11 issue on the allocation of $4,600 under the Town of Purcellville's Youth Sports Funding program to seven of the nine organizations that applied.Â At its regular council meeting on March 8, the Town Council voted 5-2, with Mayor Fraser and Council member Karen Jimmerson the dissenting votes. The vote was 7-0 the last time the program came before council on November 12, 2014, by the same council members with the exception of Melanie Fuller, who was appointed to take council member Ben Packard's slot when he resigned in January of this year.
Vice Mayor Patrick McConville made a motion to divide the remaining $600 from the adopted budget between Loudoun Valley and Woodgrove High Schools for their scholarship programs.
Starting in 2008, the Purcellville Town Council annually budgeted approximately $5,000 for youth Sports Grant funding and relied on the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board (PRAB) to make recommendations on allocation of those funds. The Board members reviewed the applications and Eamon Coy, Chair of PRAB, answered Council questions at its regular meeting on Tuesday, March 8. Criteria used by the PRAB and Council included: number of participants, status as non-profits, specificity of financial requests and inclusion of participants with varying skill levels. Special consideration is given to organizations that intended to use the grants to provide scholarship style assistance to players in need.
Vice Mayor McConville made a motion to adopt the PRAB recommendation with a second by Council member Joan Lehr, and discussion was opened up among the council members.
Council member Lehr asked why two organizations, Upper Loudoun Youth Football League and Fielder's Choice 12U Travel Softball, were not included in the PRAB recommendation. Coy explained that the board was looking to promote organizations that don't get a lot of exposure.â€ One is a LLC and one a corporation that has paid staff and lots of support, which is different from the smaller groups, he said. We tried to meet requests for specific goals.
Council member Jimmerson said she opposed the grant money, saying, â€œI already subsidize sports. Ice Hockey is expensive. She said she did not want to pay for the wealthy kids. "I would rather it go to a child who cannot afford to pay, she said."
The Mayor reiterated his opposition to giving money to private groups instead of non-profit groups with fewer than 50% of the members Town taxpayers and questioned why only two groups provided 501(c)3 statuses. Coy said it was not a requirement for the applications and pointed out that the Mayor did not bring it up when the process was approved by council a few months ago.
Assistant Town Manager Danny Davis explained that the confusion was on our form: it asks if they are a charitable organization. Some groups are 501(c)3 organizations but they don’t consider themselves as a charitable, since they are sports teams or leagues. The Town is looking at changing the form to ask, Are you a 501(c)3 organization to avoid future confusion.
The Mayor said, "I love sports but I am against this process in place." He admitted that "I should have done more vetting."
After the meeting, several posts were made on social media. Sam Chapman, who is a candidate for council, posted on Facebook: Purcellville Facts — Several years back our Council set aside a small amount of money ($4-5K) in the Town budget to support youth athletic organizations. I don’t need to elaborate on the importance of youth sports. This is a no brainier, right? Last night I witnessed the Council vote 5-2 to support this effort. Yes, two Council members did not support this action. Today, we should all say thank you to Joan Lehr, Patrick McConville II, McCollum, Fuller and Nave for supporting this effort. Some of the best memories I haveÂ linkÂ back to Fireman’s Field and Haske Field.
Council member Jimmerson posted in part on her blog:
An estimated 70% of all of youth sports programs are operated by parent-led interest groups, who use public facilities that are provided by our community tax dollars. Purcellville residents pay taxes that support Fireman’s Field and some recreation activities. These same Purcellville residents also pay taxes to the Loudoun County, which supports playing fields and citizen’s need and desire for recreation and leisure activities. I would rather the money be spent toward a dedicated scholarship for Purcellville families who cannot afford to participate in these sports leagues.
Chairman Coy provided more input to the Gazette after the meeting: The council vote last week was in no way supposed to be used as a referendum on the sports grants program writ large. It was simply meant to determine the recipients of the money that had already been budgeted by this council to the program. The nay votes in effect were slaps in the face of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, a group of VOLUNTEER citizens, appointed by the council, who have been asked to advise the council on issues like this.
Other council members who voted "yes" were asked to provide their opinions. Council member Melanie Fuller said, The Town advertised that these grants were available and solicited applications. The committee received the applications, reviewed and recommended the awards to the council. Considering the very small dollar amount we are talking about, I am not uncomfortable with honoring the Town's commitment to these families and athletes. If TC wants to bring it up for discussion going forward, if they want to eliminate the program, let us talk about that. But as far as the program for this year, I support the committee's recommendations.
Vice Mayor Patrick McConville, Council Liaison to PRAB, added his thoughts: Parks and Recreation Advisory Board oversees and makes a recommendation to the Town Council, is a small gesture towards local sports leagues that the youth from Purcellville are a part of. The benefits that all youth receive from playing team sports build character and cooperation when working with a team. I am proud of this program and only wish we could do more to help the children in the community.
Council member Doug McCollum said, "As a basic rule, I am not troubled by people who are helped out of town. If it were a huge amount of money, then I might have a problem."
Council member John Nave did not respond to the Gazette's request for comment.