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The Situation Concerning Valparaiso's Little League Field

Sports feature the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Sometimes in one week. 

So it is with the Niceville-Valparaiso Little League Organization.

Last week, the organization welcomed back conquering heroes who placed third in the Junior League World Series in Washington. In the half-century plus since organized baseball and softball for boys and girls has been played in Niceville and Valparaiso, not a single team had previously made it past the regional round. That’s a full two eliminations before the World Series Appearance. 

This week – the organization’s president had to negotiate with various stakeholders – including the city of Valparaiso – about a derelict field the organization abandoned during the height of COVID three years ago. 

More than 750 kids signed up to play baseball or softball in various age groups’ organizations last year – putting the league at capacity on the fields it used for this year. That’s 150 more kids than were on the field at NVLL the year before. 

They expect even more children to sign up next year – especially with all the excitement around this year’s Junior League success. But that means the organization will need more real estate to put players. And needing more real estate means the league must negotiate its way through the web of bureaucracy surrounding the fields in Valparaiso they used before the pandemic. 

The fields have not had much maintenance in the three years since their last significant use. Technically, the Okaloosa County School District owns the fields, but the city partially maintains them. The NVLL was responsible for lights and maintenance. 

Long story short – who is in charge of the fields and their maintenance is not really straightforward and has become a headache for all organizations involved. 

“We’ve mowed for free to keep it from becoming a total eyesore,” Valparaiso Mayor Brent Smith said to the gallery at Monday, August 14ths, City Commission Meeting. “The city has been burdened with cutting the grass because no one’s stepped up to the plate to hold up [little leagues] end of the bargain,” he added. 

A Leadership Change

There’s been some turnover at NVLL. President of the organization Chris Taulbee noted he wasn’t prepared for the meeting because he was brand-new to the presidency, which was thrust on him by default. He had been on the little league board for almost two decades – and was elected vice president of the board in 2020. A week later, the president stepped down, and he became the head honcho. 

The changeover hasn’t been smooth – and has come with something of a learning curve as well. “I’m pretty sure we still owe you for something,” President Taulbee said to the council, noting that the organization hasn’t met all of its debts to the city. A chorus of yeses came from the commissioners on the dais. 

According to financial information prepared by the city – Valparaiso taxpayers had contributed thousands in maintenance, electricity, and water bills over the period of time the little league used the field. They continued to provide resources after the Little League abandoned the use of the field as well. 

In addition to the costs of field maintenance – there has been a cost for success. The bill to send the Junior League Softball Team to Washington for the World Series totaled $19,000. “We literally had five days to fundraise for it,” Taulbee told the commission. 

NVLL President Chris Taulbee speaks to the Valparaiso City Commission to request assistance in rehabilitating the Valparaiso Little League field. The organization says they are experiencing a surge in participation and must find a way to accomodate it.

The Ask

Despite the issues in the recent past, Taulbee hoped that the NVLL and the city could come to an arrangement for the future that would see the municipality absorb some of the costs of operation for the little league.

In exchange, the league would lower the participation cost for city residents.

The Mayor, while sympathetic to the desires of the league, said the city was already under significant financial pressure. Mayor Smith added the city was already in cost-cutting mode to avoid the possibility of a tax hike on residents. “I mean, we certainly want to be civic-minded and think of our kids,” Smith said, “But we’re in the middle of the budget process right now. So, every nickel counts. We’re trying to save our citizens’ money and not have to go up on taxes… It’s been seven years since we’ve had to up on taxes, and a carton of milk and coffee costs more than it did seven years ago. We’ve been holding our own with the budget, but wages go up. Insurance goes up. Benefit packages go up and seminars go up. We’d love to see [NVLL] back out [on the fields in Valparaiso], but we are stewards of the city’s finances and we’re obligated by charter and by law to the best interests of the citizens.”

Long story short: the city will consider financial assistance in its budget calculus when it meets on August 21st to discuss the Fiscal Year 23-24 budget. Still, there are no guarantees for aid to the little league organization.

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