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Pinellas County
East Lake requests tax levy for youth sports
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Screenshot by SUZETTE PORTER
Rob Prosavec, vice president of East Lake Youth Sports Association, left, and Rick Watson, ELYSA president, ask Pinellas County Commissioners April 1 to levy a tax to help pay for operations and other needs.
CLEARWATER – In 2013, Pinellas County Commissioners approved a request from East Lake residents for an ad valorem tax to help fund its library. Now the East Lake Youth Sports Association is asking for the same.

ELYSA president Rick Watson and vice president Rob Posavec made an appeal to Pinellas County Commissioners April 1 for a 0.25 mil tax to fund youth sport facilities currently operated by ELYSA. They envision “falling under the umbrella” of the Palm Harbor Community Services agency much the same as East Lake Community Library did after it received a 0.25 mil levy.

PHCSA also governs Palm Harbor Parks & Recreation and the Palm Harbor Library.

The men said ELYSA could use public money to help support its three primary sports organizations: Little League baseball, youth football and cheerleading, and the West Coast Flames soccer club.

ELYSA was founded in 1982 and through 2002 developed, operated and maintained a 27-acre complex at 3555 Old Keystone Road in Tarpon Springs. The association built and providing lighting for six baseball fields, two football fields, three soccer fields, three concession stands with restrooms, a football press box/storage facility and other supporting structures.

In 2003, ELYSA receiving a $434,000 grant from the county that was used to improve drainage and expand baseball and soccer playing areas. Another $500,000 grant in 2010 allowed the association to enhance its facilities to meet a growing demand.

In 2011, ELYSA entered into an agreement with the county to develop a 100-acre parcel of land on the Eldridge Wilde property located east of the present facilities. With $1 million in funding from the county, ELYSA built two soccer fields and in November 2012, opened the East Lake Meadows complex.

Public funding critical

But as operations expanded, so did the cost.

Posavec said East Lake had to charge higher fees than organizations in nearby communities due to the lack of public funding. A chart shows the average cost at other facilities at about $66 compared to $100 at ELYSA.

He said costs to maintain program and facilities is about $300,000 a year. He said a 0.25 mil tax levy would bring in an estimated $575,000 – enough to pay costs and pay for needed repairs and improvements. He said ELYSA also would be able to lower its fees.

ELYSA’s complex is more than 30 years old and it needs work. The organization needs money to pay for major repairs and upgrades. One example given was an estimated $250,000 to replace old lighting with energy-efficient models, which would save on operating costs. The association needs expansions.

They estimate the cost for projects at $1.3 million. They believe a tax levy is the best way to sustain ELYSA’s needs.

Commissioner Susan Latvala said she would support the request.

“The community has worked very hard,” she said.

She reminisced about a time when the county gave grants to organizations to help them pay for their needs. Commissioners stripped those grants from the budget during the recent recession.

Commissioner Ken Welch asked about community support.

“It’s strong,” Watson said.

He said ELYSA had worked on prioritizing is needs without public funding for many years.

“We’ve learned by necessity to operate on a shoestring budget,” he said. “We would continue to work that way.”

County Administrator Bob LaSala said if the commission wanted to levy the tax, a decision had to be made by July.

Commission Chair Karen Seel said she would support moving forward.

“But I want all the details – profit and loss statements,” she said.

She also instructed the men to begin work with PHCSA to get things “worked out.”

“You might not need the full quarter mil out of the gate,” she said.

Latvala disagreed.

“They don’t need to have to come back here every year asking for a millage increase,” she said.

She pointed out that ELYSA has targeted $1.3 million in needed projects.

“You can always decrease it (the levy) but increasing it can be hard sometimes,” she added. “Why would their needs be less than Palm Harbor and Palm Harbor spends every penny.”

Commissioners John Morroni, Janet Long and Norm Roche gave preliminary support, but asked for a workshop to go over the details before giving a definite answer. The tax levy would not require a referendum.

“I support the initiative,” Long said. “I just want more discussion.”
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