InterTech rescues Crowfield Little League

The InterTech Group, the international conglomerate owned by the Zucker family, is donating $5,000 to the Crowfield Little League to help pay its bills.

The Crowfield Little League is safe for another inning.

The InterTech Group, the international conglomerate owned by the Zucker family, is coming to the rescue, donating $5,000 to the league, which has a $3,600 tax payment due Monday.

As many as 600 youngsters ages 4 to 16 play on the league’s ballfields off College Park Road each year, but the league’s battle to stay afloat is ongoing.

Incoming president Justin McCauley said last week the league owes a two-year property tax bill of about $7,800 — a second payment of $4,200 is due June 1 — and that if it didn’t raise the money, could lose its home fields.

InterTech CEO Anita Zucker and strategy officer Rob Johnston read the Post and Courier’s story on the league’s tax plight and saw “an opportunity to support a good cause and to help some local kids,” said InterTech spokesman Mike Fewell. The InterTech Group Foundation is the company’s effort to help support local organizations.

Others have come forward to donate too, and Berkeley County Councilman Tommy Newell has also taken up the cause, McCauley said. County Council is scheduled to have a presentation on the issue and discuss possible remedies at its Land Use Committee meeting Monday.

As of Friday, a account set up to help Crowfield had collected $600.

“We are still about $3,000 short of our tax bill but we are also needing to make improvements to the fields,” McCauley said. “We are hoping to get a push to get us over the hump.”

Since the early 1990s, the league has made its home on sandlot-like ballfields located just off College Park Road in an unincorporated area near Goose Creek.

The 14 acres was dubbed the Steve Vaughn Sports Complex in honor of the landowner, who rents it to the league for $1 a year, plus the property taxes, which were then about $350 annually.

In 2002, Berkeley County reassessed the land, changing its status from agricultural to commercial use and sending the bill soaring into the thousands. The league’s income is $75 per player plus one fundraiser per year.

“I tried to argue with them and went before them for reassessment,” Vaughn said. “We got it stabilized to what they see as a fair amount, but I still think the county is kind of hell-bent on taxing the land based on projected use instead of actual use. Since we’ve owned the property, it hasn’t changed use.”

Berkeley County Assessor Wilson Baggett said this week his hands are tied. The land cannot be zoned agricultural because of its current use, and the site is unencumbered because the league does not have a long-term lease. Also, the most recent bills were not appealed.

At one point early on, Vaughn said he signed a five-year agreement with the league so that Berkeley Co-op would install lighting at one of the five fields, but since then, there’s been no formal lease.

Vaughn said he bought the property as a retirement investment, and has always promised to give the league a year’s warning if he decides to sell.

The property tax bills are current with Berkeley County, Baggett said. Vaughn pays the taxes each year and Crowfield reimburses him, McCauley said.

“People ask why I don’t just pay the taxes,” Vaughn said. “It was our agreement that they would pay them. I’ve also had a lot of money tied up in this property. You can’t keep going to the well if there’s no money there.”

Vaughn said he doesn’t fault Crowfield for being behind on the taxes.

“Last year, we let it get past the spring and they didn’t pay,” Vaughn said. “When that happens, it’s going to be a problem because there are so many bigger needs than the tax bill. I’m sure that money was well-spent somewhere else.”

The “complex” has two portable bathrooms, no running water, sagging fences and run-down fields. Vaughn said he has helped with improvements like drainage, fencing and dugouts.

“I’d do anything I can for those kids, and I have,” he said. “I’ve gotten way more grief out of that land than anything, but I never lost focus that we were doing it for the right reason: to help those kids.”

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.