MIDLOTHIAN – The Midlothian Basketball League took front and center at this week’s Midlothian City Council meeting. The resolution on the agenda asked the council to approve a grant from the Midlothian Community Development Corporation to the Midlothian Basketball League, Inc. for $191,600. This money will be used for the 2023-2024 Basketball league facility usage fees.
Community Members Pack The House In Support of Midlothian Basketball League
There was a packed house as interested parents and coaches were in the audience to speak in favor of the grant for the league.
Public comments were all favorable save for one in which Lisa Healy said that while she is in favor of the league, when she learned some members running the league draw a small salary she was concerned about the transparency of the league. She asked council to take that and the plans to continue funding it, as it grows, into consideration.
Tiffany Carra said, “This is exactly why we collect money, tax dollars,” she encouraged the council to help her children continue playing ball in the winter league. Carra also noted the basketball league is the most affordable league the city has.
Tater Beard, an active member of the community especially in the youth sports arena, spoke about how Midlothian has facilities for football, softball, baseball and soccer but doesn’t have facilities for basketball. He also mentioned that the MCDC and city attorney had vetted the grant. He spoke about the positive impact youth sports have on kids from mentorship to work ethic, and urged the council to vote in favor of the grant.
Jacob Rhodes, a volunteer Coach spoke about how the league is topnotch and “unlike anything, I have ever seen for a city that does not have facilities to be able to do what they have done working with the school and the Old Gym and all that without having their own facilities and organize practices for 1000 kids.” Basketball is unique, he said, because it doesn’t require expensive equipment or a ton of skill. His final point was the basketball league offers kids an outlet in a town where there aren’t a lot of activities for kids.
Todd Hemphill spoke about the success of the league and also said, “I find it disturbing that this particular item is being brought up on anything except the merits. This is what the MCDC Board is for, quality of life projects. It disturbs me that we have elected officials, unelected officials, appointed officials and private citizens that find a problem with everything that seems to go on in this town and this school district. Its reprehensible and that needs to stop.”
Gym Rental & Facility Fees Have Increased
Allen Nix with MCDC explained gyms used by the basketball association are rented and the requested money would only be used for gym fees based on invoices. He also said gyms recently increased their rates, “Basketball association rates have soared,” he said. “When they come to us to pay for the gym rental, they will come to us, and we will rebate that up to $191,000, and it will not go over that.”
President of the Basketball League Riley Plante spoke about the need for the grant, explaining, “The first season, they were paying $3 to the school district or $3,600 for 400 kids, and there are 1000 kids now. The bill to the school district alone for two seasons this year will be in excess of $90,000.”
Plante said this does not include the money being paid to Mansfield for tournaments, which they can’t play in Midlothian, or the money they pay to rent the Old Gym.
Without the grant, he said they would have to shut the league down and increase the prices currently being charged by more than $250, double what is being charged now.
Questions About League’s Paid Positions
After public comment, Councilmember Hud Hartson asked how much it costs to run the league.
Plante said he didn’t know, but he had sent councilmember Mike Rodgers the Profit and Loss statements for 2022 as requested. He believed it was around $440,000 for all the expenses.
Rodgers said the gross income, according to the P & L Plante sent him, was $369,000.
Hartson also asked if they could tell him who the paid employees for the league were and the positions.
Melissa Bohler with MCDC responded to the Council that, she had personally applied for over 500 grants, especially from specific foundations like the Anderson Foundation, and she had never been asked to break down payroll. She continued that in general when you make a grant request, you give a full breakdown of the payroll.
Hartson said, “I appreciate your answer, but I am the liaison for the parks board, and every year, the different sports orders come before the board, and these questions are asked. I will ask again, what are the league’s paid positions?”
Plante replied, because they do not use city facilities, they are not required to go to the Parks Board meetings and submit that information. He explained there are probably over 100 people paid providing examples of: door workers, concession workers, scorekeepers, bookkeepers, schedulers, referees, etc.
Hartson said that other sports leagues in town often have parents fill in for roles to reduce costs and wondered if that Basketball League could also save money in that capacity.
Regarding Hartson’s questions, it seemed he was making his point when he asked, “Who runs the league on the financials?” Plante would not answer who is listed on the 501 (c), so Hartson asks, “Is anyone running the league paying themselves?”
Plante explained there is a board of directors who votes on the budget, and he listed the names of a group that included not only Plante but councilmember Moorman.
Hartson’s main point was that he did not believe it was correct for Plante and Moorman to pay themselves out of the money from the 4B board. He said it amounted to $16,000 each. Mayor Pro tem Wickliffe interjected asking if they were staying on topic.
City Attorney Joe Gorfida replied they could pay themselves, and there was nothing wrong with doing that. Hartson responded they had paid themselves last year with the money that was given by MCDC.
Hartson ran out of time but added, “I do not believe as a council we need to continue to fund a league that misinterprets the difference between wants and needs. A want is all the extra bells and whistles that drive up the league cost. What is your plan to not have to come back to us every year for $190,000? Every year you come to us, and the price goes up.”
Concerns About Funding The League In The Future
Councilmember Ed Gardner asked questions that parlayed into the amount the league will cost the city in the future due to its continued growth.
Now the Basketball League has a youth season in the summer and a 10-week-long youth season in the winter. There is also a six-week spring adult league, a summer adult league, and a camp for kids, allowing them to train for $20 per hour.
The numbers 96 practices a week and 48 games per week multiplied by 12 were bandied around. Plante pointed out that in the first year of 2022, there were 348 kids; that same year and summer, they had 670 kids; and in 2023, they had two seasons and had 978 kids in winter and 780 in the summer.
Gardner said he was concerned about future operating costs since he heard the facility cost had increased by 1000%.
It was said that court costs were $90,000, so why were they asking for $190,000? It was determined there are multiple seasons, which raises the costs.
Gardner inquired about entry fees to the league and ticket sales for games and where that money was going – the amount comes out to, for example, $40,590 for the summer.
Gardner again said if the league continues to grow, “the city will not be able to fund this. Even if this gets approved this year, I don’t see how we can do it next year. We are talking about last year the city ran a deficit budget. I don’t see how we will continue to grow at this rate unless there is some way of offsetting these costs or running this league in a self-sustaining capability, so I want to know how you are generating your revenue.”
Councilmember Rodgers, who had studied the Profit and Loss statements for the league, said he didn’t feel like they were trying to hide anything and when he requested information it was provided immediately. He noted the grant is for an “up to” amount paying only for facility cost; therefore, “The league can’t extract more money than the facilities they have invoices for, and it is a hard purchase.”
Hartson asked MCDC when they received the financial of the league, who were the people listed on the 501c as running the league? Plante declined to answer the question. Hartson also asked of all the people running the league paying themselves at any point during the league’s existence. Plante answered they have a Board of Directors that votes on the budget every year. So, Hartson followed up asking if the Board is paid anything.
Plante asked the City Attorney if these were standard questions asked during grant requests and while Gorfida told him he could answer or not, Gorfida then said ‘this is kind of turning into a cross examination at this point.”
Allen Nix with MCDC said he believed this was a multiple-part plan. He hoped the city council would take the lead regarding some of these questionable items in the future and create a subcommittee that could work with the gym, the basketball league, and the school district.
“There are a lot of parties involved, and all the prices went up,” Nix said. “If we can get the parties together with the help of the city council and the leadership of the ISD, we might be able to get the fees down.”
He said he would like the leadership to come together and tell the league what the plan is for the future.
Final Comments From Council
Councilmember Hammonds said she does want to think long-term about the basketball league, “I think it’s amazing what you’ve done. I’ve never seen the start up and the support and the marketing and the professionalism EVER in a sports league in our community. I’ve been so impressed from day one. I want my kids to play. I want to have conversations, and will volunteer for whatever committee. For this conversation, I am so sorry it has gone this way. This is straight politics y’all. Straight politics. If anybody else were involved here we would not be having this conversation.” She said they’d never berated Manna House like this, and never asked these questions.
Councilmember Rodgers said he understood Gardner and Hartson’s concerns about the league overall, but he vetted it thoroughly. When looking at other leagues that Rodgers studied, the P&L statements lined up. He considered the costs involved to build basketball courts, and it would be approximately a million a court. Thus, he was unsure if it was better to plan for the city to build courts or to continue funding the league via a grant. In his opinion, he didn’t think it would hurt a thing to fund it for a year and watch it as it grows.
Before the vote, Mayor Pro Tem Wickliffe reminded the council and citizens that before voting each councilmember was elected by the citizens and that when voting, to vote what they feel is right for the city of Midlothian.
Council voted 4 – 1 to approve the resolution after a lengthy discussion among council members and league representatives. Hammonds, Gardner, Wickliffe and Rodgers voted in favor with Hartson voting against the resolution.
Mayor Justin Coffman and City Councilmember Allen Moorman recused themselves from the meeting’s discussion due to a conflict of interest in participating and voting.