When the Department of Recreation and Parks was told to find a way to raise revenues for the coming year, it did. And now the commissioner of the county's independently run adult softball league is furious about it.
The department has told commissioner George E. Bickertonhis league will get less playing time while the recreation department's leagues will get more.
A potential increase in teams in the recreation department adult league, plus the addition of new softball leagues for seniors and teens, will raise about $25,000, says recreation and parks director Jeffrey A. Bourne.
No way, says Bickerton. The county may even lose money or at best break even if the revenue plan is adopted, he says.
"If the past is an indicator, residents will be paying more for less," Bickerton says.
"If they get their way, God help us. None of the programs run by Howard County citizens will survive."
The demisewill come, Bickerton says, because of "unfair competition." The department will keep the best fields and give the poorer ones to his league, yet will charge teams the same $7.50 per-game fee, he says.
"It's ironic. Our program was instrumental in getting the transfer tax used for the development of these parks. But now we're being relegated to second-rate status while they try to build up their program."
If that is indeed the county's intention -- it wants to increase thenumber of its teams this year from 60 to 80 -- it seems to be working with at least one team manager.
Rick Kenney, a free-lance reporter and editor who has been managing a team sponsored by Ma's Kettle in Savage, is switching back to the county league this year after having switched from the county league to Bickerton's league last year.
Although Bickerton's league fields "much stronger and much better teams," the county plays on better diamonds -- "and that is more important to most players than the level of competition," Kenney said.
Cost also figured into his decision, Kenney said. He said the $650 the county charges for a 21-game slate of seven single games and seven doubleheaders is a better deal than Bickerton's $649 for a 24-game schedule.
The county fee includes everything, Kenney said, whereas teams in the Bickerton league pay about $67 more per team for insurance and $10 extra for every game they play under the lights, which amounts to about $789 altogether.
Both the county league and the Bickerton league have increased fees this year. The county has gone from $610 to $650, and Bickerton has gone from $633 to $649, with costs forinsurance and night games extra.
Bickerton's league had 122 teamslast year, with 23 of them playing two nights a week. Bickerton sayshe had hoped to have no less than that this year.
The decision toeliminate 48 of his league's game slots and give them to the county-run league is yet another indication of unfair competition, since it will mean the end of most doubleheader games, Bickerton says.
Recreation bureau chief Gary J. Arthur says he realizes most adults prefer doubleheader leagues, but the number of new players demanding gameshas exceeded the supply of fields. The only way to accommodate the increased number of players, Bourne says, is to cut down the number ofdoubleheaders.
"It won't work," Bickerton says. "One game is overin 45 minutes. You can't expect people to come once a week for 45 minutes. Who wants to come out for a single game at 9:30 at night?" Indeed, the thirst for softball is so great that some of the teams in his league are also members of the county-run league, Bickerton says.
Bourne says he does not see the county-run league as a competitor, but a collaborator. Bourne says he and Arthur plan to meet with Bickerton Wednesday to work out a solution.
Bourne says the county's bottom line is that it has to raise $25,000 from its summer athletic program and it doesn't make any difference whether his department does it or a subcontractor does it.
If Bickerton would like to subcontract to run the county program, he and Arthur would happy to discuss it, Bourne says.
"That's not a viable option," Bickerton says.
What would work instead, he says, is to allow his league to keep the same number of playing dates and "charge a reasonable user fee."
Tothat end, he has contacted members of the County Council and Del. Virginia M. Thomas, D-13A, to help overturn the Recreation and Parks Department's decision.