By Michael Howell
Mike Hamlin, owner of the Montana Sports Academy, and his associate Jason Galigoski have withdrawn their request to use a storage shed at the Jerry Stevens Memorial Park on Kurtz Lane in Hamilton to house their high tech batting and pitching instruction operation for free and are now requesting that the commissioners consider leasing it for some set amount of money instead.
The proposal involved using the shed to house two batting cages with associated video equipment that enables the men to analyze a ball player’s swing and provide appropriate instruction. The plan was to lease the facility for zero dollars, although the company would cover the estimated cost of about $2,000 per season to pay for utilities, insurance, a portable toilet and other incidental expenses. A fee of up to $5 per ball player was proposed to help cover those expenses. The coaches would not receive wages for their time.
The proposal came to the commissioners with a positive recommendation and strong support from the Park Board but the commissioners balked over questions concerning the legality of the deal. Two main concerns were whether the program would in fact be equitably available for all kids in the whole county and how that would be assured and the problem of not having publicly explored the potential of leasing the building for other purposes that might bring more benefit to the county than the batting instruction program.
After details of the proposal were published in the valley’s newspapers, Hamlin said that he was deluged with telephone calls. He said many of the calls were from teams interested in using the service for all their players.
“The response was overwhelming,” said Hamlin. He said it quickly became apparent that there were going to be problems in accommodating all the interest. He said it was a little bit like offering free food to anyone in the county but then turning people away when they responded because you are out of food.
“Something like that generates bad feelings,” said Hamlin. “That was not our intent.”
Hamlin said that he also heard from players already using the service on a regular basis who wondered how it would work if they had to wait in line for every other interested kid in the county to take a turn before they could return for a follow up analysis.
He also stated that he understood the Commissioners’ position and how their hands are tied over the legal questions.
“They have to be fair to everyone and they have to follow the laws. They have a tough job and I really appreciate that,” he said.
As a result, Hamlin said, they have asked the Commissioners to consider leasing the property instead.
Commissioner J.R. Iman said that the matter was discussed at a recent Park Board meeting at which Deputy County Attorney Howard Recht was in attendance. Iman said that it was discovered that there is a law that prohibits the county from leasing out property for less than the annual taxes owed on the property. He said there is also the question of getting fair market value for the property. Iman said that Commissioner Greg Chilcott has expressed reticence to leasing the property for anything less than fair market value. He said for the county to lease for less than fair market value could appear to be unfair to other building owners looking to rent their property.
Hamlin said the original proposal, with zero rent, was conceived as a way to keep the cost of the service affordable for kids in the valley by passing on those savings right to the players.
“We recognize the difficulties involved and the legal limitations the commissioners must operate under. We are hoping that they will consider a lease and that the cost will still leave us with a feasible program,” said Hamlin. “We just want to do something good for the kids. We don’t want to generate any problems or any bad feelings.”
Iman said that the commissioners will set a date for a public hearing to consider the matter in the near future.