By West University Place Mayor Bob Higley
Unfortunately, the adults who run those youth sports have made it all about them – and your money.
West U is well-known for its commitment to our families and to our kids. Generations of families have raised their children here in our little jewel of a city – many now moving “back home” to do so.
Youth sports are a big part of life here in West University Place. It’s been that way since Laura and I moved here in 1971. Coaching was a passion for me with my children, and my children with their children.
So, what’s the problem?
Well, it’s come down to your money and the uncompromising attitude of Tri-Sports regarding your West U tax monies.
Tri-Sports is a 501c3 entity that manages youth sports fields in Harris County and neighboring counties like Fort Bend and Brazoria. Multiple cities, including Southside Place, Bellaire, and all of the 14 “small cities,” are part of the Tri-Sports network covering 137 zip codes.
Tri-Sports supports leagues for popular sports, such as baseball, softball and soccer. West U kids participate in those leagues. Those leagues which Tri-Sports supports pull in kids from West U and 52 other zip codes in the area for baseball and softball alone. Soccer draws from 137 zip codes.
For many years, the City of West University Place has subsidized Tri-Sports with your tax dollars escalating to amounts as high as $125,000 per year – in cash.
Why? We aren’t sure. It was just done, without careful scrutiny.
This is in addition to in-kind contributions from West U for utility services and priority field access. Southside Place is the only other city making a cash payment to Tri-Sports, giving $10,000 last year. Southside Place makes no in-kind contributions. Tri-Sports has actually received approximately $3,000,000 of present value from West U taxpayers since 2004.
West U City Council was forced to get down to some deep cleaning on the budget. Council asked Tri-Sports, like we asked others with budget requests, why West U taxpayer dollars should continue to be provided to them.
There are legal, statutory obligations for the city to have answers. Tri-Sports could not give City Council a good justification for the cash subsidy. It is Tri-Sports’ duty to answer those questions, not City Council’s.
Neither West U kids nor their families benefit, in any way, from the West U taxpayer cash to Tri-Sports. For example, there is no agreement for league registration discounts for West U kids, there are no uniforms or gear provided for West U kids for those taxpayer dollars, and there are no field advantages for West U kids. In fact, West U provides Tri-Sports with exclusive access, year-round, to our field and all fields under our control.
Lengthy talks were held in an effort to try to negotiate justified financial support for the organization but Tri-Sports was unwilling to settle for anything less than a $125,000, unaccounted-for, taxpayer cash subsidy from our city. No other city gives Tri-Sports cash like this. There is only one zip code out of 137 zip codes from which cash is received – 77005.
Why West U? For what unique benefit to our kids and their taxpaying parents?
Tri-Sports didn’t shut down without $125,000 of West U taxpayer cash. As a matter of fact, Tri-Sports recently increased their fees to parents. Guess what, registrations increased.
Kids don’t stop playing in leagues supported by Tri-Sports without West U’s money. Even Tri-Sports’ former Treasurer who was also a past president of WUSA said in a 2019 recorded city workshop, “We can survive without these funds.”
In the end, Tri-Sports couldn’t or wouldn’t justify why they needed cash from West U’s taxpayers. As a result, City Council had no justifiable reason to support Tri-Sports’ cash demand.
West U’s City Council is only accountable and responsible to West U taxpaying residents for their tax dollars. The West U City Council voted not to continue to fund Tri-Sports with taxpayer money, without full disclosure and ongoing accountability to our taxpayers.
Now Tri-Sports is mad. Because they didn’t get their unjustified cash subsidy from you, the taxpayers.
What is Tri-Sports doing? Tri-Sports and the youth sports leagues are 501c3s, as I mentioned. The IRS prohibits 501c3s from “participating in any political campaign directly or indirectly.”
It was reported this week that these groups are now supporting select candidates, at the very risk of their 501c3 status.
Are candidates for Mayor and City Council being targeted based upon a City Council vote? Is it risky? Are there conflicts of interest? Does this set a dangerous precedent? All are in play.
I never thought I’d see the day in West U when our kids’ sports would be used in such a dangerous and self-serving political manner. This is shameful.
This Council looked at our budget with clear eyes and fresh questions. We dove deep, to provide real tax cuts, without sacrificing our city’s quality-of-life service model that residents expect.
Out of that review came questions about unjustified line items like Tri-Sports. This year, City Council honed in on ways that we could actually reduce the average homeowners’ property taxes for the first time in about 40 years – when homeowners would need it most.
Our kids and our families always deserve the best we can give you, as stewards of your taxpayer dollars. That is Council’s oath and job.
Tri-Sports is mad that City Council didn’t hand over $125,000 of your money to them. They couldn’t or wouldn’t provide City Council with the answers needed to justify that cash. It wasn’t a hard ask of them.
In my 50 years in this fine city of West University Place we call home, I have never seen such a desperate and naked attempted power grab – and using our kids as their play. Isn’t this a very dangerous path to allow?
Instead of revealing a game plan that benefits our West U families and our kids with tangible advantages in Tri-Sports-supported leagues, Tri-Sports just wants a blank check from West U. That’s not fair to West U families who pay their taxes, in addition to paying Tri-Sports fees.
When we stay focused on and accountable for your money to support our families and our children, the answer always becomes clear.