- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 20, 2014

OCEAN SPRINGS, Miss. (AP) - The city of Ocean Springs will return donations to three local business owners who had contributed money to keep Freedom Field lit for a group of pickup soccer players.

Instead, the city will spring for the lights.

The board of aldermen voted Tuesday night to return money put up by businesses to help cover the light bill for Freedom Field.

Three local businesses offered to pay the estimated $200 monthly electricity bill.

The city had told a group of soccer players, mostly Ocean Springs residents, the city couldn’t afford to keep the lights on and the parks department had exceeded its utilities’ budget. The board also voted to add money to the parks department budget to cover the utilities.

Alderman Matt McDonnell said the city was going to finish the fiscal year in the black and could afford to pay its light bill without assistance, saying it was “a bad signal to send to residents” to have sponsors have to subsidize the city power bill.

He also wanted the issue sent to the Parks & Recreation Advisory board for further study, “where it rightfully should have been sent in the first place.”

Parks & Recreation Director Geri Straight, who was out of town when the issue came to a head during the aldermen’s Aug. 5 meeting, said Tuesday she considered the soccer group an “organization or league” and that had they simply come down to her office and signed a user agreement and paid a fee like all other leagues, the controversy could have been avoided.

“It wasn’t about the lights,” Straight said. “It was because they didn’t follow the policies and procedures we already have in place.”

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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