Policy changes to how the Woodbury charges different groups to use athletic fields in the city has drawn concern from parents and board members of a local soccer club, who say their classification could reduce access to youth soccer programs for residents.

The changes, which were passed at a June 12 City Council meeting, grew from discussions following the merger of Woodbury Soccer Club with youth soccer club Salvo. The organization later requested clarification of the term "Woodbury-based" within the policy.

The policy's new language clearly defined "Woodbury-based" as having a physical address within the city or affiliated with East Ridge or Woodbury High School. Also, at least 80% of its membership must be Woodbury residents or attend school within School District 833.

Salvo is headquartered in Eagan, making it ineligible for a "Woodbury-based" classification. Woodbury residents currently make up 39% of the organization's membership. However, the club's leadership disputes its classification because of its use of "geo teams," which are formed based on where players live.

If it's a question of "feet on the field," 89% of players using city fields are either Woodbury residents or attend school within District 833, said Lisa Wolf, executive director of Salvo.

"I think the ideal policy would be more focused on who's actually using the field as opposed to an organization in its entirety," Wolf said Monday morning.

City programs receive first priority when it comes to scheduling. Public and private school programs that allow the city to use their facilities for its programs receive second priority and only pay fees to use fields if the city is providing maintenance. Woodbury-based youth nonprofit organizations receive third priority and do not pay fees during a sport's "priority" season, but do pay fees during events like tournaments and other special uses. Priority four includes Woodbury-based youth and adult athletic organizations, which pay $25 per field per hour or a daily fee.

Salvo is currently classified as priority five in the "non-resident" group, paying $50 per field per hour or a daily fee. Under the recent policy changes, organizations in this tier also receive a discount based on how many residents it includes not exceeding 50%, meaning Salvo receives a 39% discount.

Wolf said at the City Council meeting that she was currently searching for Woodbury office space and intended to get the club to at least priority four.

Wolf said the policy fails to address the structure of soccer organizations and a trend toward regional, rather than city, teams.

"Soccer is a much different environment than other sports because it's club-based versus community based," Wolf said. "We within our organization do recognize those communities, so we would like to have the policies reflect the fact that it's the users, not the organization as a whole."

The policy was first put in place in 2009 and has been revised five times.

Woodbury players paying twice?

If organizations pay more in fees to use fields, Salvo families could suffer, said those who addressed the council at the June 12 meeting.

"I'm sure if we had more time to get more parents to speak, you would probably hear a similar message of wanting to keep costs affordable for players and Woodbury residents," said Amy McKenna, a parent of Salvo players.

Parks and Recreation Director Michelle Okada said during the meeting that Woodbury Athletic Association minutes from February 2018 show it was aware of possible consequences of the merger related to field use and still chose to proceed. Okada also said staff had met with Salvo representatives shortly after the April 24 council workshop meeting, when the policy changes were first discussed.

Mayor Anne Burt and council member Amy Scoggins said they both currently have children who play for Salvo. Scoggins initially said she did not support the language changes and made a motion to table it, which she later withdrew.

Scoggins said her main concern with the policy was most of the club's players using city fields after the merger were still Woodbury residents.

"I also get that this is a bigger policy decision, it's not based on one group, but the one group is probably why I'm still thinking about it and talking about it," Scoggins said.

Burt suggested the responsibility rests on Salvo and other clubs to regulate costs for their members but also voiced her desire to have the club pay less in fees.

City Administrator Clint Gridley cautioned against any solution that involved monitoring how much time resident versus non-resident players spend on a field.

"Whatever we arrive at as a policy has to be something that's easily administrated," Gridley said. "So to the extent we start counting residents on a field, it can get very complicated very quickly."

Gridley also reminded council members that the proposed policy changes would give Salvo and other organizations like it a discount based on the percentage of Woodbury residents.

"While I think there might be a huge opportunity to do a little tweaking, I would like to, personally, see the opportunity for this organization to start saving money today," Burt said.

Scoggins then withdrew her motion to table, ultimately voting with the rest of the council to pass the new policy language.

"But I don't want to stop talking about it," she said. "I don't want it to be like, OK, we're done with this."

In other news...

  • The council passed a temporary alcohol ban in Carver Lake Park in response to what it said is the misuse of the park's beach. "The beach, in part because of its secluded location and free admission, has become a popular gathering place for irresponsible levels of alcohol use and loud, disruptive parties," a memo to the council said. Alcohol will only be allowed accompanying paid rentals of park shelters until at least the end of 2021, allowing time for staff to "identify and implement ways the park could be used to its full potential." Woodbury Public Safety will help with enforcement and education about the restriction, according to the memo.
  • The council passed an updated version of the 2020-2024 Capital Improvement Plan. The city calls it a "planning tool," as all projects must go before the council again before any funding is approved. The complete plan can be found starting on page 81 of the June 12 City Council meeting packet.