In a last-minute concession during a loveless match, the town Parks & Recreation Commission on Monday granted the Westport Tennis Association another year without having to pay reservation fees on town courts.
WTA members, however, blamed officials' plan to impose court reservation fees -- its members have not paid the fee in the past -- for triggering a huge net loss in membership.
The commission, meanwhile, unanimously approved doubling the court reservation fees for all others, increasing the advance charge for the five-month season from $50 to $100. The Parks & Rec Department will also offer a monthly $25 reservation fee for doubles matches, which is not available for singles players.
Several WTA officers served some sharp comments at commission members during Monday's meeting, placing blame on the town for what they said will likely be the demise of their group.
"The group has been destroyed by this ruling," said Eileen Hill, WTA vice president. "Because of this fee, the group no longer exists."
"We had recommended that they just raise the tennis fees," she said, referring to the daily charge.
Hill and others maintain that news of the fees scared off its members. "We've had 27 people sign up, rather than 100," she said after people learned of the plan to impose reservation fees.
Commission Chairman Andy Moss, who proposed the year-long WTA exemption after hearing complaints, said the reservation fees hadn't been raised in at least eight years, or maybe longer. "This particular fee has not been looked at for some time," he said. "It feels like the $100 fee is not an exorbitant fee."
An apparent misunderstanding between Parks & Rec Director Stuart McCarthy and representatives of the WTA, however, also caused bad feelings. Hill said WTA members always have been under the impression that the group existed under the auspices of the town on some level, but McCarthy said that is not the case.
When members wanted to talk with McCarthy about a proposal to split the WTA into men and women players, he said that is the organization's prerogative.
"You're running the organization and you can run it anyway you want," he said.
Hill and others, however, said they believed that McCarthy was telling the group it was not allowed to split.
"The men have said they will not pay the reservation fee," Hill said. "The organization will go belly-up and nobody seems to care."
Stephan Taranko, WTA treasurer, asked why the town didn't formally take over the WTA, which he said would lead to increased participation and revenue.
"I was always under the impression that it was a quasi-city organization," he said.
"Now there is no more WTA," he said. "It's gone. And that is something Westport is losing ... The courts are empty ... The WTA, they play. They buy permits."
While Moss said, "I can't solve all your problems," he asked the tennis players to "keep the dialogue going" and encouraged the WTA to try to reorganize.