By Patrick Fox
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Non-resident recreation fees are creating a stir in north Fulton County.
In February, Alpharetta was turned down when it asked Johns Creek for a break for its youth participating in athletic programs at Ocee Park. Now, Alpharetta is denying a request by Milton officials for the same consideration.
At issue is the girls softball program at Alpharetta's North Park. The activity draws from 350 to 600 kids each spring, roughly half of them from Milton. The 100-acre facility on Cogburn Road lies completely within Milton's city limits.
"Alpharetta did improve and buy the park from Fulton County, but it is kind of painful for the girls to have to pay that additional piece," said Kurtis Brown, commissioner for the Alpharetta Youth Softball Association, the non-profit group that runs the program for the city.
The charge to participate is $125 for Alpharetta girls age 6 and 7 and $135 for girls 8 and above. Non-residents pay an extra 75 percent.
That extra cost has Milton officials pondering whether to form their own program.
Until last year, the 5-year-old city didn't have a parks department. It has only one active park, Bell Memorial, which features four baseball fields, a playground, concession stand and picnic pavilion on 15 acres.
But city officials have been busy this year. They have budgeted $1.3 million in capital improvements for parks after spending no more than $51,000 on them over the past three years.
City Council members just this week agreed to build a park on a two-acre site between Northwest Middle School and Crabapple Crossing as part of an agreement with Fulton County Schools. The city is also looking to develop Birmingham Park, a 205-acre tract with limited access on Hickory Flat Road.
"The last thing we need are two diluted [softball] programs," Milton City Manager Chris Lagerbloom said. "We should at least explore a cooperative program. Otherwise, we may have to go with our own."
Such a move would hurt the existing organization, Brown said.
"Neither city would then have the critical mass required to have an independent league," he said.
Alpharetta officials say local residents have poured between $7 and $10 million into North Park in its 25 years of existence. The city spends close to $1 million annually for its operation and upkeep, said Mike Perry, Alpharetta's parks and recreation director.
Residents also passed a special $24.9 million bond in 1997, with about half of the proceeds committed to parks.
James Drinkard, assistant city manager, said Alpharetta is interested in forming partnerships with neighboring communities to develop quality recreation programs.
"But they have to be partnerships in which all parties are bringing resources to the table so that our citizens are not subsidizing a benefit to citizens of another community," he said. "It has to be somewhat of an equal partnership."
Alpharetta and Milton recently collaborated to sponsor summer camps for special needs children in their cities. Alpharetta's Camp Happy Hearts will serve children ages 6-12 and Milton's Camp Joyful Souls will serve children ages 12-18. The programs will honor resident pricing for both Alpharetta and Milton citizens.
Brown would like to see a similar effort made for the softball program.
"I'm an Alpharetta resident, so yes, there should be something they should pay," he said. "But that number and what it's based on in terms of what goes into the budget is one of the big questions."