Council bill might give soccer association a break on property taxes

Howard At Play

Recreation and local sports in Howard County

September 14, 2005|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

UNTIL YOU buy your first home, the concept of paying property taxes always seems abstract. Then, that first tax bill gives the concept new relevance. Property taxes take a chunk out of any budget. So it was last year with the Soccer Association of Columbia-Howard County.

The state's second-largest youth soccer group was focused mainly on getting its new eight-field complex off Centennial Lane, called Northrop Fields at Covenant Park, open when the local tax bill arrived. And the club paid -- about $40,000.

That might be the last such check the club writes, however. The Howard County Council is considering a bill that would provide "a property tax credit for real property that is used as an athletic field exclusively for amateur sports."

To get the credit, the property owner would have to be certified as a nonprofit organization.

A hearing on Bill No. 59-2005 is scheduled for Monday night in the council's chambers in Ellicott City, with a vote scheduled for Oct. 6.

The bill does not specifically refer to SAC-HC, but the organization would be the first beneficiary, assuming council members approve the measure. The soccer club is the only nonprofit sports group in the county that owns its athletic fields.

The bill seems destined to pass. All council members but Charles Feaga had signed on as co-sponsors, as of yesterday.

"We can afford it," said Dave Procida, SAC-HC president who sought help from council members with other club leaders. "But that's not the issue. ... The money we save goes directly back to the kids."

Procida said the club also generates a lot of indirect revenue for the county, with lodging and restaurant bills being paid by parents who bring thousands of children to Covenant Park for tournaments and league games. Some believe the impact of the club's annual Memorial Day tournament, one of the biggest on the East Coast, is in the vicinity of $1 million in such revenue.

The club also will be petitioning for relief from smaller state property taxes, Procida said.

Councilman Ken Ulman, who along with colleague Chris Merdon got the bill drafted, said that SAC-HC also provides a valuable service by operating its own fields, thus freeing school and park fields for other groups.

And, Ulman said, the club contributes to the greater Howard County community by providing between $40,000 and $50,000 a year in scholarships so youngsters who cannot afford club fees can play.

La Rue leadership

"I've played a lot of softball -- in church leagues, co-ed ball, and in a very competitive men's league -- but I've never had more fun than playing in this league."

That quote seems to indicate that the Columbia-based Cindy La Rue Co-Rec Softball League will be in good hands again next spring, when Marriottsville's Bill Jones takes over as commissioner.

Jones is succeeding Columbian Skip McAfee, who has held the volunteer job for the past 18 years and who in the early 1990s saved the league from a near-death experience.

The league, named in memory of a popular former player who was murdered, was founded in Columbia's early days. The idea was to have a team from each of the new town's nine villages.

But as the 1990s began, the number of teams shrank to three -- sending McAfee to local newspapers seeking more players. This past summer, 16 teams from many parts of the county competed on Wilde Lake Middle School's diamonds.

La Rue softball, its supporters say, is unlike softball in most other places. McAfee has long described it as less an athletic endeavor than a way to meet people, build friendships, and enjoy a "community" with softball as its common thread.

"I call it `organized pick-up games,' " said Jones, 36, who works for a Columbia environmental consulting firm and began playing La Rue ball in 1993. "You try to win, of course. But it's organized in the sense that it has teams and a schedule. Games have much more of a feel of getting together with friends for a picnic on a Sunday afternoon."

McAfee, a retiree who umpires a lot of softball and is a baseball researcher, said, "It's been a great run for me. I've met a lot of great people. But I also want to be able to actually read the Sunday papers on Sunday.

Call the writer at 410-332-6525 or send e-mail to lowell.sunder

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