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City Council tackles YMCA, fire funding issues
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BELLEAIR BEACH – Future funding of the YMCA and the future of the Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue District dominated discussions at the July 7 City Council meeting.

Roger Jacobs, program executive for the North Beaches Branch YMCA, spoke to council at its request and listed YMCA programs currently offered and plans for the future.

As the process of preparing next year’s budget begins, some residents and council members question continuing to pay $20,000 to support the YMCA. The city’s contribution of 20 percent covers administrative and program costs. The money from participants’ punch cards and fees covers the cost of instructors, explained Mayor Mike Kelly, a YMCA advisory board member.

When asked for the number of city residents who participate, Jacobs said over the past year and a half, 125 families had registered, representing 70 different addresses and about 40 youths. He was unable to give council exact number of participants, explaining that not all YMCA-sponsored programs require registration.

Council member Bert Cutler, chairman of the finance committee, said figures showing how many people from Belleair Beach used the YMCA program were necessary for the council to be able to make a decision on continued funding.

“If people are using it (the YMCA), I certainly have no objection,” he said. “But if we’re paying $1,000 per child or per person out of Belleair Beach, I don’t think it makes a lot of sense, and we don’t know what the numbers are.”

“During the last year and a half, momentum has been growing,” Jacobs said.

Council heard impassioned pleas from residents both for and against the continued funding. Council members expressed their support for the YMCA, its programs and philosophies, but remained firm on its need for numbers to justify continued funding of its share.

The next item on the agenda was the issue of funding needs for the Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue District (PSF&RD).

Kelly reported that recent public meetings with the Board of Fire Commissioners had done little to answer questions about why it is in debt and how much money it really needs. He said a suggestion had been made that a financial advisory board be formed from members of the four communities in the fire district to “find out the real reason they need so much money.” The board responded that would be “micromanaging” and refused.

Kelly said if the district does not take some sort of funding solution to the voters by referendum this year, by the end of next year, only $617,000 would remain in the fire district’s coffers. He added that the district would be in default by January 2006 if something weren’t done.

“I think it behooves us as a council to appeal to the state to allow us to dissolve this district because it’s not financially working,” said Cutler.

City Attorney Paul Marino and Belleair Shore Town Attorney John Elias are researching the legalities involved in dissolving the district either by a special act of the legislative delegation or by referendum by the people, as well as other legal options.

“From what I’m hearing it appears to be mismanagement, so how do we as a community jump in and try to change the management, rather than dissolve the district and have to go with contracts with other communities?” asked council member Stan Sofer.

“I think the bona fide efforts on the part of both individuals and cities has to be forced upon them (fire commission) to do this financial group to advise them,” Kelly said.

Sofer asked if it were a recall situation.

“Yes, it has to be a take it or leave it situation,” Kelly said. “If they don’t set up the financial advisory group, then you have to dissolve the district.”

Marino was instructed to continue research on methods of recall as well as dissolving the district to advise the council on a prudent coarse of action. He was also asked to look into the steps needed to look elsewhere for fire and EMS services.
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