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Aulander ballfield lights approved

AULANDER – In May, the lights will come on at the John A. Drew Field of Dreams as another season of youth baseball/softball begins.

However, the simple task of flipping on an electrical breaker turned into a 59-minute discussion here Thursday night.

As part of the agenda of their special called meeting, members of the Aulander Town Council discussed the issue of the ballpark lights as well as hearing public comments from a near-capacity audience.

In the end, Aulander officials, in a 5-0 vote, agreed to pick-up the added tab on the electric bill for the months of May through August (the time period the youth program is in full swing).

At the outset of the discussion, Aulander Mayor Larry Drew asked was there enough money in the town’s budget to cover the costs of the ballpark lights (the youth baseball/softball league is supervised by the Aulander Ruritan Club, not by the town).

Drew basically answered his own question by informing council members of the town’s growing General Fund – a balance of $147,000 in 2008; $253,900 in ’09 and $345,744 as of Jan. 30 this year.

He also said the town’s budget for recreation was $12,250 annually. Last year, the electric bill to operate the ballpark lights was $2,007.75.

It was also noted that the town has covered the cost of the ballpark lights for the past three years as well as providing the money for mowing the grass and for fire ant treatments. The town also contributed $500 at the start-up of the youth league program.

“I’m not questioning the bill for the lights during May, June, July and August when the kids are playing ball, my question is the other charges (on the electric bill) when nothing is going on at the ballfield,” Councilman Tony Todd said. “The only charge (during that time) should be a flat fee.”

Studying copies of the town’s electric bill, Mayor Drew said he was looking at a cost of $1,037 to operate the lights during the youth league season. Prior and after that season, the bill was roughly $100 per month.

“I’ve got a solution,” Todd said. “After the ball season is over, pull the breaker (on the lights) and if someone needs the field they have to go to the town hall to have the breaker cut back on.”

Todd again stressed that he doesn’t have a problem with the town footing the bill for the lights at the ballfield during the youth baseball/softball season.

“The only thing I care about is the kids,” he said. “It thrills me to watch them play, no matter if they’re talented or not. If they play, they have fun; I like to see them all have fun. All kids need to play equally; good or bad. For some this may be the only opportunity they get to play.”

“If you put forth the effort, you’ll play,” Mayor Drew responded. “It’s not fair for someone who doesn’t put forth the effort, who misses practices, to play over someone who is putting forth an effort during practices and games.”

The Mayor added that a by-product of the youth leagues is that the ballfield has become a place for adults to gather, watch the games and socialize.

“I’m hearing from parents and even a few coaches that some kids are not playing,” Todd said.

Aulander Ruritan Club member and youth baseball/softball director Billy Drew said at the outset of league play (in 2008) there were some issues with all children not having a chance to play.

“We didn’t have any complaints during the regular season last year,” Billy Drew noted.

He added that the league only charges $35 per player, a price that includes a uniform and insurance.

“There are no ball leagues around here cheaper than us,” he stressed.

Town officials also heard from Aaron Carroll, head baseball coach at Chowan University.

“Youth baseball in this area is slowly dying,” Carroll noted. “Ya’ll have a great thing going here. Build on what you have. Participating in athletics builds life lessons. These kids also build friendships for life.”

Ruritan Club member Wayne Smith said he would be pleased to have his town taxes used to pay for the lights at the ballfield during the youth season.

“We have kids coming from all over, from other towns, to play here and that makes me proud,” Smith said. “For the 140 kids playing here and doing something positive, it reduces the time they are subject to peer pressure. They are being taught competiveness, comradeship and sportsmanship.”

Todd put a motion on the floor for the town to pay for the lights from May through August (for the youth leagues) as well as covering the electric bill for ballpark usage by any non-profit entity in Aulander and the Millennium Volunteer Fire Department. His motion also stated that at all other times the electrical breaker at the ballpark would be switched off and the breaker box locked.

Councilwoman Mary Jane Tayloe offered a second and the motion passed by a unanimous vote.

Additionally, town council asked that Dominion NC Power be contacted as to the reason why the electric bill would exceed $100 per month for the ballpark when it is not in use.