by Valerie Verkamp
Representatives of the Vikings Football Club and the City of Parkville continue to try to clarify how the club was allowed to irrigate the football field for years without covering the cost of the water.
The Vikings use a city-owned field near the city’s sewer plant. Apparently about decade or so ago--both sides are sketchy on the details--a water line was connected to a metered line at the city’s sewer plant, and the club has been using that line to irrigate the field.
The club has not paid the city for any water usage.
According to city officials, former city employees who would have been in a position to know say they have no knowledge of the situation. Leaders of the organization, who apparently are new to their positions since the time the situation began, also say they have no knowledge of how the connection was made and have told city officials they have no knowledge or evidence that anyone affiliated with the Vikings actually made the connection. Vikings officials recently speculated to city representatives that a city employee may have been responsible for the connection.
City officials say city leaders never gave permission to the Vikings to water the field at no cost.
Alan Hoambrecker, who has served as the president of the Vikings for the past nine years, said in the likelihood someone with the Vikings connected the field's water line to the water meter for the sewer plant, it was done prior to his presidency.
“As God as my witness, we had no idea we were taking water from somebody,” said Hoambrecker. “I want to assure you that whatever happened, happened before nine years ago. I don't want you to think that something happened on my watch, because it happened prior to me taking over,” he said in a meeting of the finance committee Monday afternoon.
Regardless of how the water main initially became connected, questions still arise from whether or not the Vikings ever considered whether they should be financially responsible for the essential water being provided to their field.
Hoambrecker told The Landmark on Monday that he never considered the responsibility for payment, adding he is not the designated person that handles the team's expenditures.
“Since I don't take care of the bills, it was never on my radar,” said Hoambrecker. “To be really honest, I just never thought about it. I know that sounds like a cheap answer, but I don't have a good one. The connection was made before I even got there and I guess it was an oversight.”
Janet Hoambrecker, Alan's wife, happens to be the treasurer of the Parkville Vikings Football Club.
When The Landmark asked the treasurer whether she ever wondered why the organization never received a water bill, she indicated the Vikings “never paid for water.”
“You know what, no one ever asked (about the water expense),” said Janet. “I think we assumed that since it was a city property, the city paid for it.”
According to the Parkville Vikings' web site, the youth sports organization requests additional financial support from members of their Booster Club. The site goes on to list specific costs associated with maintaining the Vikings' field. Watering, seeding, striping, weed killing, and mowing are among the numerated costs listed on the web site.
After The Landmark pointed out the discrepancy to Janet Hoambrecker, she indicated she was not familiar with the Vikings' web site.
“Now, I don't know why water would be listed,” said Janet. “I didn't make up the web site. I have no idea. We're not-for-profit and we're here for the kids. None of us get paid to do any of this. There are 40 or 50 volunteers and we're just working for one common goal, and that's to teach the kids football.”
When asked whether she ever considered that perhaps the city (and not the Vikings) was paying to irrigate the fields, she responded:
“There was water out there when we took over and we assumed that the city took part in it. They never questioned it for how many years? I think the only reason they're questioning it now is because we are asking for a contract,” said Janet.
Alan Hoambrecker said he would like to know precisely how much the city paid to irrigate the Vikings' field.
“If they were to look at the numbers, I guarantee they're not as big as they think they are,” he said. “I guess we won't know what the actual usage is until we put a meter of our own in there.”
He continued: “We only water during the season, so that's three months out of the year. It's not like the water was running January through December.”
Tommy Ryan, a representative with the Vikings Football Club, said at the city’s finance committee meeting on Monday that he would take the necessary steps to have a meter installed.
“At this point, it's what we’ve got to do,” Ryan said.
To try to rule out the possibility of a city employee granting permission to the Vikings to tap into the sewer plant’s water supply, city officials have been doing some research. Lauren Palmer, city administrator, says two former public works directors were contacted to find out if they were involved in the event. Neither former employee admitted to authorizing the connection.
“There is at least that information to say that it wasn't specifically authorized,” said Palmer. “Now whether or not someone did it without specific authorization, we don't have that information.”
Alderman Nan Johnston said on behalf of taxpayers the city should continue investigative efforts until they determine conclusively who connected the water line.
“It is my understanding that a (city) staff member is the one that noticed the water usage being so high in the summer, so it seems that staff would be able to go back, however many years, and determine when the water was hooked up. I just honestly feel like I have to get to the bottom of that, because I am getting some hard questions from residents that I want to be able to answer and I do want to give the Vikings a clear name. Right now it looks like the Vikings were the bad guys here,” said Johnston.
“We are not bad guys,” said Hoambrecker. “We do more good than bad.”
So far, city officials have struggled differentiating the water usage between the Vikings field and the sewer plant. City officials said on Monday they have researched four years' worth of compiled data.
Based upon those records, Palmer said the water usage in 2010 and 2011 was slightly higher during the summer months. Despite the marginal fluctuations in water usage, it did not provoke city staff members to immediately react.
That response changed this past summer when water usage became peculiarly high.
“In 2012, it was an abnormally high year, but we also had some unique circumstances at the sewer plant that year, so we attributed it to that and it didn't raise a flag. Again, this summer we saw some abnormally high water usage bills and we started investigating, that's when this conversation came to a head,” said Palmer.
Another concern raised by Parkville officials involved the Vikings' requested year-round exclusivity of the field and their requested 25-year lease agreement.
Ryan said it is a matter of safety. “If you have multiple teams playing on one surface, basically you eliminate the safety of good turf,” said Ryan. “It would also increase our expense. If you have a team play in the spring or summer the water bills go up and the amount of care that you have to give the turf to keep it in great shape goes up.”
Hoambrecker said the Vikings spend approximately $14,000 annually to maintain the field.
“My position has always been and will be that if somebody wants to use it, they need to pay to keep it up to the standard that we would keep it up at. I don't think that's unreasonable request. It's not like we're trying to dictate or be bullies about it, but we need it basically August, September, October, and half of November.”
There are indications the city is open to entering into a some type of contract with the Vikings. As it stands now, the financial committee has decided to have the city’s Community Land and Recreation Board (CLARB) review the city's agreement with the Vikings before the aldermen move forward.