CLEARWATER — During a budget information session with Pinellas County commissioners May 28, representatives from East Lake and Palm Harbor shared reopening plans and talked about the effects of COVID-19 on their operations.

They also requested that millage rates for fiscal year 2020-2021 remain the same as the current year.

Erica Lynford kicked things off for the Palm Harbor Community Services District. The special taxing district provides funding for library and recreation facilities for Palm Harbor residents. The 0.5 mills levy is split with 0.25 mills going to each service. The tax is expected to generate nearly $2.344 million for FY 2021.

Lynford is director of the Community Services Organization and oversees parks and recreation operations.

She told commissioners that all was well until March, when everything had to close due to COVID-19. However, some operations have continued using a hybrid model of virtual events and some on-site.

Staff returned full time on May 18 and limited services returned on June 1. Support groups have been moved to Harbor Hall and White Chapel to allow the Centre to be used for childcare and summer camps.

As of May 28, Lynford didn’t know about the use of the YMCA pool or school board facilities.

She said money had been invested in sanitizing for the facilities and playgrounds with sanitation stations set up throughout the Centre.

Revenue is down 30% due to cancellations of events and facility rentals. She hopes to recover 15-20% of that before the end of the year.

“We’ve done our due diligence and put money away,” she said, adding that reserves can be used to make up the difference.

And scholarships are still available for summer camps.

For more information on what’s open or to sign up for summer camp, visit csapalmharbor.org.

Library services

Palm Harbor Library Director Gene Coppola was up next. He said operations were good through February as the library began to be used more as a community center.

Then, because of COVID-19, the library had to close in March. Coppola told commissioners that the library was returning to full-time hours on June 1 with no volunteers, only staff to provide service.

He said while the library was closed, it offered curbside pickup, which had proven to be successful, and may become a permanent feature.

He said the library had implemented safety protocols, such as taking temperatures of staff and requiring them to wear face masks. Library patrons will be encouraged to wear face masks too. Occupancy will be limited and patrons will only be allowed to stay for one hour to give others a chance to enjoy the library.

Two sessions a day have been set up for computer use with enhanced sanitation for keyboards and other parts of the library. No events, programs or meetings will be allowed for now. Two study rooms have been set aside for e-government services, such as unemployment. The library also is offering more virtual services.

For current library information, visit https://www.palmharborlibrary.org.

The library also is making plans for a possible second wave of COVID-19 in the fall, Coppola said.

He talked about a potential loss in revenue as the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative considered doing away with library fines. Coppola said so far the only libraries objecting to the plan were Palm Harbor and East Lake. They have asked for a year delay to prepare.

Patrons can currently keep library materials for 60 days.

Commissioners seemed to think the fines were an incentive to get people to return materials.

Cheryl Morales, executive director of PPLC, said the board had not yet decided on going fine-free, although most of the county’s library directors are in favor of the fine-free movement. She said studies showed benefits of the practice, but the decision ultimately would be up to each library director.

Coppola pointed out that if that happened, people would just use libraries that don’t have fines and Palm Harbor and East Lake would still lose that revenue.

Morales said money from fines for all libraries except for Gulf Beaches, Palm Harbor and East Lake go into their respective municipalities’ general fund, and the library doesn’t benefit. Gulf Beaches, Palm Harbor and East Lake libraries do receive the money.

She said a presentation from Hillsborough County showed a cost-saving benefit from eliminating fines, due to no need to devote staff time to collecting fines and no need for payments to collection agencies. Hillsborough also reports getting materials back faster with some items that had been missing for years being returned. In addition, due to the lack of fines, some people had returned to the library that hadn’t been in years because they had fines.

Morales said even without the fines, people would still have an incentive to return materials because until they are returned they can’t check out more.

Lois Eannel, director of the East Lake Library, didn’t talk about the fines, but she did update commissioners on what had been happening. East Lake reopened its doors on June 1. Beforehand, it had undergone extensive cleaning and has extra protective measures in place to guard against COVID-19.

Using Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines occupancy is being limited. No meetings or events are scheduled. Programs have been revamped to be online or virtual.

She requested that commissioners levy 0.25 mills, which is expected to bring in $750,490 to pay for library operations.

For more information, visit https://www.eastlakelibrary.org.

East Lake Rec

Mark Sanders, director of operations at East Lake Recreation Services, also asked to continue the levy of 0.25 mills, which will generate an estimated $750,100 in revenue for FY 2021.

He told commissioners that recreation facilities were mostly closed due to COVID-19. An area at the Meadows Complex had been opened for families to use as greenspace.

On June 1, the East Lake Complex and Meadows reopened with hours from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. CDC guidelines were required. Restrooms and drinking fountains were unavailable. Preparations for a complete reopening are underway.

Sanders said things had been difficult since he has no staff. He has asked all the sports organizations that use the facilities to make a plan for a safe reopening. At that time, Gov. Ron DeSantis had lifted restrictions of youth activities and athletics, but group gatherings were limited to 10. Sanders said he didn’t know how the teams could play with that restriction.

The governor has since changed the rules to allow groups of up to 50.

Sanders said soccer groups had delayed tryouts until June 15.

“They all wanted to the same thing,” he said.

For more information, visit www.eastlakerecreation.org.