The issue of whether taxpayers should provide funding to the West University Tri-Sports Association is emerging as one of the major points of discussion in the bi-annual West University Place election on May 1.
The issue is a close call. There are legitimate cases to be made on both sides. But the inventory of misinformation on this topic is vast, so let me try my very hardest to be an accurate information clearinghouse, trying to frame the issues as objectively as I can (keeping in mind I am not objective).
West University Tri-Sports Association is a non-profit charitable organization with three members: West University Little League, West University Softball Association and West University Soccer (a division of Rise Soccer Club). The mission of Tri-Sports is to manage, maintain, and operate the youth sports fields located on publicly owned lands at West University Elementary School, West University Recreation Center, and Pershing Middle School.
Tri-Sports was chartered in 1987 by three West University Place residents, but the group was never legally affiliated with the city of West University Place. However, the city and Tri-Sports have been attached at the hip for decades.
At the Nov. 3, 2019, City Council meeting, the mayor and councilmembers adopted a one-year Memorandum of Understanding with the Tri-Sports Association that made the Tri-Sports folks quite angry.
Why? Because the new agreement eliminated the city’s annual $125,000 cash subsidy. The city did agree to continue certain benefits (primarily utilities), legally referred to as “in-kind” contributions. The in-kind amount on the Tri-Sports tax return for 2018 was about $29,000. They also granted Tri-Sports the unfettered use of the playing fields at West University Recreation Center at no charge. But the City Council nixed the cash subsidy, and the Tri-Sports leadership was mad.
According to the season data provided on the Tri-Sports Association website, 1,231 youngsters played in WULL and 513 were West University Place residents (42 percent). For softball, there were 219 West U residents out of 696 total participants, or 31 percent. Only 13 percent of Rise Soccer participants were West U residents.
It used to be that almost all the participants were West University Place residents, but all three sports leagues have experienced phenomenal growth over the last two decades. Indeed, after a merger with the Braes Bayou Little League, WULL became one of the largest Little Leagues in the U.S, both numerically and geographically.
Acknowledging arguments on both sides, here are the relevant questions:
•Should the city use our tax money to subsidize the registration fee of West University Place youngsters for youth sports leagues?
•Is it really a subsidy, or is the city paying an outside group to provide a service the city most likely would be forced to provide? There is no question that the three leagues add a fierce charge to the quality-of-life magnet that makes living in West University Place so wonderful. Wallin Field, across from City Hall, is magnificent and adds to the drive-by appeal of our municipal campus. No one would even try to argue that that youth sports do not add to the value of West University Place.
•Is that enough to warrant an annual contribution of $24 from each of the 5,260 households in West University Place? Moreover, do you really want some retired couple subsidizing your kid’s Little League cost? And what about the couple in the next block who want to have kids but cannot. Is it fair to make them subsidize your kid?
•Should the city use our tax money to subsidize the registration fee for youngsters living in Houston, Bellaire, Pearland and Katy?
These leagues are the best. No surprise they have grown like milkweed. But there is a glass ceiling in West University Place — only so many homes and so many kids. So, the growth has been outside West U. West U Softball (31 percent West U) and Rise Soccer Club (13 percent West U) have no residential boundaries. West U Little League (42 percent West U) has a district boundary that goes from the Southwest Freeway on the north to the old Wildcat Golf Club (Holmes Road) on the south and east to part of Highway 288 and west to Meyerland Plaza.
But does it really matter what percentage are West U residents? Shouldn’t the focus be the more than 1,000 West U youngsters who do participate and mostly love it? Instead of viewing this as subsidizing all the participants about $15, how about saying the $125,000 annual expenditure is a West U participant expense that should legitimately come out of the city’s parks and recreation budget?
For many people, the problem is wiring around the fact that West U is paying the postage for other cities. And to those folks, it doesn’t seem fair. The WUSA website says they have players from River Oaks, Montrose, the Galleria and even Katy. Bellaire shut down their softball league, and Bellaire girls play in WUSA. But the only other city that has ever contributed any cash is Southside Place, to the tune of $15,000, but they provide no field space. If we are going to be the only ZIP code that provides a municipal cash subsidy, shouldn’t our residents get a discount? The city of Houston just raised the green fees at Memorial Park. For a Houston resident it is now $38 on a weekend but if you are from West University Place, you will pay $140, a 268 percent differential. Sounds like too big a gap to me, but maybe a $30 break on the registration fee for West U residents may be enough to justify reinstating a cash subsidy.
West University has a lot of frills, frills that we have been happy to pay for. Recycling has become a part of good citizenship, but it is getting costly. Our Senior Services are expensive, but they allow our residents to age in place (and my number is about to come up). Fortunately, our wonderful park improvements are funded by the 5013(c) Friends of West University Parks Fund.
Budgeting is tough in a municipality. Unlike the federal budget, our municipal budget must balance – it is the law. Our councilors are pressured by voters to keep taxes low. But then, understandably, people get upset when their ox gets gored. It is not an easy balance.
To be fair, during the budget year the Tri-Sports cash subsidy was eliminated, the City Council reduced actual taxes — not just the tax rate. The average West U taxpayer paid more than $130 less in municipal taxes than the prior year. You may have missed that because city taxes are only about 14 percent of your property tax bill, and every other taxing authority increased taxes, so our West U savings got lost.
One final point. This election is really getting nasty. And that saddens me. Specifically, I keep hearing that horrible verb, “lie” and its agent noun counterpart, “liar.” Those words are traveling both north and south.
Any modern definition of “lie” requires deceptive intent. As George Costanza said, “It’s not a lie If you believe it.” And I do not believe that anyone, on either side of this issue, is a liar. Still the rhetoric has become unhealthy for our wonderful little town, even though both sides believe everything they are saying or writing on this issue, and all parties are acting in good faith. But both sides have said and written things that are inaccurate.
There must be a way to work this out with everyone leaving with a smile on their face.
Remember, when this election is over, we will all still be neighbors.