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Teen takes on Riverhead Town over skateboarding fee

Wes Ackley, 14, poses with his skateboard. (Jan.

Wes Ackley, 14, poses with his skateboard. (Jan. 21, 2010) Credit: Newsday / Ken Sawchuk

Wes Ackley likes to skateboard. But he doesn't like paying $30 a year for a permit to use the town skateboard park in Riverhead.

So the Baiting Hollow student did what any well-taught ninth-grader would do: He wrote to the town supervisor. His letter was good - so good, in fact, the town decided to reconsider its entire skateboard park fee structure to see if it should cut them.

The board had been set to approve park and recreation fees for the year at its meeting Wednesday night. Supervisor Sean Walter asked Ackley to attend and read his letter.

Ackley noted there have been fears expressed in the community about the prospect of turning the skateboard park over to a private owner, which would likely mean an increase in fees. He suggested park improvements would bring in more skaters and more revenue.

His biggest concern, he said, was a proposed $100 fee for out-of-towners for a season pass. "Honestly, myself as a skateboarder would not want to drive out of town to pay $100 for a season pass. . . . Our skate park is decent, but not $100 worth," his letter read.

Ackley said the town could start skateboard clubs, or hold regular competitions to increase park use and revenue. "In the past years, the skate park has had only 3 or 4 competitions. . . . When there [are] competitions at the skate park, kids from all over Suffolk County come to participate," he wrote.

He struck a nerve. "A fee is really a tax," new town board member George Gabrielsen said after Ackley finished. "If we get to the point where we have to tax our 12-year-olds to use the skate park . . . that's ridiculous. It's going to end here."

The town board briefly discussed changing its resolution on park fees, but - at the advice of its attorney - simply withdrew the resolution from its agenda and said it would rework it at an upcoming work session. "You see what one well-worded letter did. We're going to change this resolution," Walter told Ackley. The audience applauded.

Ackley gave credit for his letter to someone else. "P.S. I would like to thank all my English teachers in the past years for teaching me how to write letters like this one," he concluded.

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