The Town of North Hempstead plans to take on all maintenance costs for the Merillon Ball Fields in New Hyde Park and open them to the public, officials said Tuesday.
Town officials and leaders of the Merillon Athletic Association, a Little League baseball organization, started negotiating a new agreement Monday in which the league would get annual permits to use the fields, as similar leagues do at other town parks.
The fields would be open to other groups and town residents when the Merillon league is not using them, officials said, ending the league’s exclusive use under a 2003 agreement.
“Times have changed, things have changed,” said town Councilman Angelo Ferrara (R-New Hyde Park), who met with the league’s chairman and president Monday morning. “That’s a town park and it needs to be utilized and viewed as every other park in the town.”
The Merillon Athletic Association has used the fields on Marcus Avenue since parents of the players built the park in the 1950s, Tony Camilleri, the former league chairman, said last week.
The 2003 pact gave the league exclusive rights to use the field at no cost as long as it paid all maintenance and utility costs and maintained a $2 million insurance policy. But the town paid more than $38,000 in electric bills for the complex between December 2011 and December 2016, according to town records.
Under the new agreement, the town would be responsible for all maintenance and staffing at the park, which contains three baseball fields, a playground and a building, said Tom Murphy, the league chairman.
The league could pitch in as much as it wanted for additional upkeep or renovations, with town approval, Ferrara said.
The league currently spends at least $30,000 annually to maintain the park, Murphy has said. Ferrara said officials have not determined how much the town would charge the league for permits.
There are still several details to be finalized, such as whether the league’s agreement to use parking spaces at a neighboring office complex would continue, and how its program for young athletes with disabilities would be affected, Murphy said.
The league will continue to carry a liability insurance policy that covers the town regardless of what changes come, Murphy said.
The league wants a transition period before any changes take effect so it can “restructure its finances” by the start of its next fiscal year in October, Murphy said. The current baseball season started in March and runs through mid-August, he said.
“If you have an agreement that’s lasting 15 years or so in the works and all of a sudden now … you’re getting hit with a complete change in policy, there needs to be a bridge period here in my opinion,” Murphy said.
Ferrara said the town wants to work with the league on implementing the new agreement.
Murphy plans to meet with the league’s board of directors next week to discuss the new agreement, he said.
League leaders plan to meet with town officials again, and it’s possible a new agreement could be in place by this fall, Murphy said.
“Merillon is looking forward to working with the town in a new agreement and we want to work things out for everybody that’s involved,” he said.
The league’s exclusive use of the field has drawn criticism from some New Hyde Park civic leaders, who dislike the fact that taxpayers are funding a park they can’t freely use.
Bobby Thind, the vice president of the Lakeville Estates Civic Association, did not return a phone call seeking comment, but said last week that he would like to see the town park opened to the public.