Feeney Park Foundation Board Votes to Keep Youth Sports Field use Low Amid Skyrocketing Maintenance Costs

Murphys, CA…Per Player Field Use Fees Currently Fund Less Than 15% of Actual Field Upkeep Costs — Fundraisers and Community Donations Fund The Rest. At their Board of Directors meeting in February, members of the Feeney Park Foundation board unanimously voted to keep per player field use fees affordable for local families. The all volunteer board approved a modest 20% increase, from $12.50 per player to $15.00 per player. This was the first increase in five years despite skyrocketing maintenance and upkeep costs, and loss of revenue due to the pandemic, over the same period. The last increase of field use fees before this came in 2019, when use fees were increased from $10.00 to $12.50 to help defray the tremendous costs of maintaining the fields.

To frame the board’s recent decision to increase field use fees in context with the effects of pandemic-influenced inflation over the past five years, the 20% increase this year represents just a 4% per year increase over the previous five years, when use fees actually remained flat at $12.50 per player. Over the same five year period, from 2019 to 2023, the U.S. consumer price index raised raised a staggering 19.8% while Feeney Park’s per player use fees charged to local youth sports leagues remained unchanged.

“We‘ve done everything possible to keep field use fees low for local families, but a modest increase to keep pace with inflation was inevitable,” said board treasurer Susan Lyneis. “We were hit particularly hard during the pandemic when participation in youth sports leagues was halted by emergency order, yet our fields still had to be watered, mowed, fertilized, and reseeded. Despite not collecting player use fees during this time, which caused us to deplete our small nest egg to make up for the temporary loss of revenue, we kept the park open for local families to recreate during the pandemic,” said Lyneis.

At its February meeting, Feeney Park Foundation board members grappled with how to pay for the rapidly rising costs of maintaining and improving the park and its sports fields while confronted by an operating funds deficit caused by the negative economic effects of the pandemic, and compounded by aging park infrastructure in desperate need of repair and replacement. “We’ve been playing a bad game of Whack-A-Mole… We fix one leak in the aging irrigation system, the pressure rises, and another pipe bursts,” said director and volunteer facilities manager Jean Zurbuchen. “We are barely holding it all together for the sake of our local kids. Our irrigation system is now over 20 years old and in need of total replacement, but that would cost well over $100,000 and we just don’t have that kind of money,” lamented Zurbuchen.

Less than 15% of the costs to maintain Feeney’s sports fields with regular watering, mowing, fertilizing, and reseeding (not including the ever increasing costs to repair the decrepit irrigation system) is raised from per player field use fees charged to local youth sports leagues. The rest is paid for by Feeney’s other fundraising activities and private donations.

Proposals to bridge the field infrastructure funding deficit by increasing field use fees by as much as $20 to $30 per player were discussed at the January and February board meetings, but were ultimately rejected by the board who voted in favor of a much smaller, and more affordable, increase. “We exist to serve the needs of our local kids and families,” said newly elected board president Chris Mejia. “Feeney Park is open to all, but our most important responsibility as board members is to provide a place for our youth to play sports. With this important responsibility in mind, we decided as a board to keep our field use fees affordable, and bridge the maintenance and upkeep deficit through other fundraising activities including soliciting donations from local businesses and residents,” said Mejia.

As Feeney Park is not operated by a government agency, but rather by a volunteer non-profit foundation, raising money from State and Federal grants is extremely limited. Similarly, County tax money does not currently fund popular and important public parks like Feeney or White Pines. Accordingly, most of the Foundation’s approximately $60,000 per year operations budget is funded by donations and local fundraisers.

Events like Mr. Frog’s Wild Run at Feeney Park (April 21st), Earth Day Celebration at Feeney (April 20th), and the annual Gold Rush Street Fair (held downtown during Murphys Grape Stomp, on October 5th this year), are examples of fundraisers that pay for Feeney Park’s ongoing upkeep and maintenance. However, the costs to replace aging infrastructure, improve the park, and introduce new amenities, far exceed the generosity of local donations and fundraising efforts to date. “As the volunteer stewards of Feeney Park, we are confronted with an infrastructure funding conundrum,” said President of the Board Mejia. “This park is now 23 years old, and much of the park’s original infrastructure must now be completely replaced, as it’s serviceable life has come to an end. But we just don’t have access to the kind of funds — hundreds of thousands, to perhaps millions, of dollars — required to fund the next chapter of the park’s service to our community,” warned Mejia.

In an effort to bridge its infrastructure funding needs, the Feeney Park Foundation has recently reached out to local government in hopes of finding a mutually beneficial arrangement to help fund the Park’s future. Calaveras County recently hired an outside consultant to develop the County’s first ever Parks and Recreation Master Plan (https://parksandrec.calaverasgov.us). But noticeably missing from the County’s planning efforts thus far, is the inclusion of important existing public parks like Feeney Park in Murphys, and White Pines Park in Arnold. These popular existing public parks operated by volunteer non-profit organizations, that have served our community for decades, are conspicuously missing from the County’s parks and recreation planning materials. For this reason, the Feeney Park Foundation recently launched a local petition called “Fund ALL Parks” designed to implore County officials to give non-profit public parks like Feeney and White Pines a seat at the planning table, and to sincerely explore public-private partnership as a means of supporting these parks (view and sign the petition here: https://www.change.org/p/tell-calaveras-county-we-need-funding-for-all-local-parks-parks-rec-master-plan). With nearly 250 signatures thus far, it‘s evident that many local tax payers are in support of the County including these existing parks in their new Master Plan for Parks and Recreation.

Despite operational challenges, the Feeney Park Foundation isn’t leaving the Park’s future to chance or hope. In the same gritty bootstrap spirit that originally prompted local residents to procure the land and privately fund the infrastructure required to build Feeney Park (known then, simply, as our “field of dreams”) with community donations some 25 years ago, the Foundation recently launched two new infrastructure fundraising campaigns:

Rebuild the Dream https://secure.givelively.org/donate/feeney-park-foundation/rebuild-the-dream

Fix Feeney’s Fields https://www.gofundme.com/f/v6xzbg-6000

Every donation, big or small, cash or in-kind, is an important means to keep Feeney Park open for the upper Highway-4 community’s youth sports families and general recreational needs alike. Additionally, the Feeney Park Foundation may consider special amenity naming designations for our fields, snack shack, amphitheatre, picnic areas, and the like, in honor of more sizable monetary donations and bequeathments. Contact info@feeneypark.org for more info.

About Feeney Park Foundation

Feeney Park is a community-supported public park (a real-life “field of dreams”) operated by the volunteer board members of the Feeney Park Foundation, a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, and is 100% funded by community donations and the occasional State grant — WE RECEIVE NO REGULAR FUNDS FROM CALAVERAS COUNTY OR LOCAL TAXES. Learn more at https://www.feeneypark.org