Little league baseball fields closing in Amarillo

AMARILLO, Texas----A local area baseball field has shut its doors and many parents are wondering why.

There's a padlock on the front gate at the North Randall County Baseball fields.

"As of right now, we are permanently shut down," NRCBA President Kyle Andrews said.

The message is also posted on the baseball associations web page, citing "insurmountable water costs" as a reason for shutting their doors.

Concerned parents wanted to know what that meant.

"In the last three years, our water rate has doubled," Andrews said.

We found out the problem began underground.

For years, the City of Amarillo had not been billing the ballpark for water because of a secret deal made with a nearby business.

"We were using Amarillo Gear's water for our irrigation purposes," he said.

The practice had been going on for nearly 20 years until a city inspector inquired about the water supply.

When the deal was discovered, the city forced the ball fields to install their own water meter.

Andrews says it was the rate they were being charged that washed away their operations.

He claims the city was charging them a 50-percent higher rate than Amarillo residents.

Some wondered if the city was retaliating so we took our concerns to Utilities Director Emmett Autrey.

"The cost of the water is 50 percent more if you are outside Amarillo city limits," Autrey said.

According to city maps, the ball fields were indeed zoned outside Amarillo boundaries, making the water bill they were receiving correct.

In addition, Autrey says the deal between Amarillo Gear and the ball fields was illegal.

"The only entities who purchase water from the City of Amarillo that are allowed to resell it are wholesale customers like the City of Canyon," Autrey said.

Putting politics aside, the group really getting the bad end of the deal are the children.

"I think the challenge is out there for groups like West Texas Baseball Association and the YMCA to see how they can absorb all the players when a major complex such as North Randall shuts down," Amarillo Parks and Recreation Director Larry Offerdahl said.

NRBCA says other contributing factors leading to their closure included a decline in volunteers and fundraising money.

As for the water hike, in 2009, NRCBA signed a 4-year contract with the City of Amarillo with gradual increases each year until paying the 50-percent higher water rate for folks outside Amarillo boundaries.

NRCBA says prior to having the water meter installed on their fields, Amarillo Gear was billing them for a portion of their water costs.

The ball fields were paying for water, but funds were not going directly to the city.

The Amarillo Parks and Recreation department would not comment in detail about the case, and would only say the last time they spoke with NRCBA was in early 2011.