MIDVALE — The struggle to retain officials has become more difficult thanks to skyrocketing fuel prices.

With the number of officials in soccer and volleyball critically low, the Utah High School Activities Association is struggling with how to compensate officials for increasingly expensive mileage. In the past, the group has paid only one of the two or three officials mileage after 50 miles. Officials in basketball and football are willing to travel, but volleyball and soccer referees are more reluctant, according to UHSAA staff.

The concern about mileage compensation was raised during a discussion of changing the pay of basketball officials who work three-man crews. Instead of paying two officials $55 and one official $30 with the promise of a junior varsity game for about the same amount, the UHSAA wants to pay each official $50. That means a net increase of $10 per game for the 5A schools involved in the one-year pilot program.

Alta principal Mont Widerberg said other principals in the classification should be allowed to voice their opinions on the proposal before the group votes on whether to impose an additional cost on all 5A schools.

"We have a couple of schools that are really struggling," Widerberg said. "We just want the chance to discuss it."

It was during that discussion, on the compensation officials receive, that changing mileage rates was discussed. The UHSAA is already committed to a two-cent increase from 34 cents to 36 cents per mile, but it's only paid after 50 miles.

With the increase in the cost of fuel, Cuff said officials are declining distant games because they know they'll get to work closer to home.

"We're already hearing about mileage," he said. "We've had some say, 'I can't keep doing this. I'm spending my whole check just to drive there.'"

Craig Hammer, Region 9 representative, said the group should come up with a proposal to mitigate the expenses for officials.

"We want good officials and we want to keep them," he said, suggesting changes like reducing or eliminating the 50-mile provision. "Maybe we can do something just to show them we care about them."

Ben Lomond principal Ben Smith said the group should approach any increase in costs to the schools with caution.

"We've got to be pretty careful of adding expenses back to the school," he said. "Some of us are getting killed. Some of us are drowning and can't make it as it is. I have 70 percent of my students on fee waivers."

John Nielsen, Region 15, said some schools are already operating athletic programs in the red.

"We will be destroyed financially," he said of new fees.

But UHSAA staff suggested maybe the answer is in limiting contests, not in under-compensating the officials.

"A lot of soccer officials won't travel (without reimbursement) because they can do a rec game for about the same amount of money we're paying them," said Bart Thompson, associate director of the UHSAA.

Cuff said retaining officials was only going to become harder if fuel costs and pay issues aren't addressed.

In the end, the principals decided to take the two issues back to their region meetings to allow the rest of the state's principals to weigh in on how the issues should be dealt with.

In other business:

Daren Jackson said the paperwork to ensure he got paid for officiating high school basketball games always made him a bit uneasy.

"When I would go to the schools, I'd fill out the paperwork with my name, phone number, Social Security number, all that personal information at the scorer's table," he said. "The system, to me, always seemed a little shaky."

When he took his concerns to then assistant director of the UHSAA Jerry Bovee, he told Jackson to come up with a solution.

Jackson's solution is Refpay, an electronic payment system that eliminates the need for paperwork, secures the personal information of officials and creates a 1099 at the end of the year for each official.

The UHSAA staff is requiring all officials register with Refpay, which uses the electronic database system of the Arbiter, an electronic program that randomly assigns officials to high school games.

"The AD just verifies that a guy shows up, clicks on his name and he gets paid," said Jackson.

Officials are only allowed one withdrawal each month, or they can pay $9.95 per month for unlimited withdrawals. The proponents of the system said it will bring uniformity to the way officials are paid and the way their information is handled.

The program also pays officials for mileage.

It will be up to individual schools to sign up and participate in the program, which is being piloted in three states this year.

• Liahona Prep Academy, a private school in Utah County, was approved for both girls and boys basketball next season on the sub-varsity level.

• Due to a conflict at UVU's McKay Event Center, the entire 4A and 5A girls basketball tournaments will be played at Salt Lake Community College. Usually the tournaments are at separate sites on the first day, but 5A games will be played at SLCC on Monday to accommodate the schedule change.

• The UHSAA is in negotiations with Real Salt Lake officials to secure the use of the new soccer stadium in the spring of 2009.

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