CLEARWATER — Representatives from East Lake and Palm Harbor made their annual trip to Clearwater May 9 to present their budgets to Pinellas County Commissioners.
It was the first day of budget presentations scheduled by commissioners for the fiscal year 2019-2020.
Mark Sanders, director of operations at East Lake Recreation, updated commissioners on a big project that had been completed — installing LED lights at four baseball fields. He said the “expensive, big-ticket” project provides a safer and more energy efficient mode of lighting the fields. The next big project on the list is lighting at the soccer fields, which will cost about $325,000. He said because of the cost, the project would have to be done in “big chunks.”
Residents of East Lake pay a dedicated 0.25 mills in ad valorem (property) taxes to pay for recreation services, which will bring in an estimated $725,510 in tax revenue in FY 2020. Of that amount, $714,190 will go to pay for recreation services and $26,000 to administrative charges paid to the tax collector and property appraiser.
Recreation services generate an estimated $5,950 from facilities rentals and user group fees for a total budget for $720,140 with $36,540 in reserves.
Sanders is the district’s only employee and relies on volunteers, which he said put in about 23,000 hours last year.
“I’m really happy with the volunteers we have out there,” he said. “It gives us a real sense of community.”
He said 3,000 had participated in the district’s baseball, softball, soccer, football and cheerleading programs last year with thousands coming to the facilities as spectators and visitors.
“The East Lake community is a growing community of many young families with a need for recreation services,” he said.
Commissioner Dave Eggers asked Sanders if any progress had been made to address the need for parking. Sanders said he was currently working on a plan for parking next to the S.K. Keller Water Treatment Facility on Old East Lake Road. He said he would be scheduling a pre-application meeting with the county to see if the plan was feasible.
East Lake residents also pay 0.25 mills in ad valorem taxes that go to the East Lake Library Services District. The taxes will generate an estimated $725,510 for FY 2020 with $26,000 going to administrative costs and $36,550 for reserves.
In addition, the library will receive $195,000 for the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative, and an estimated $20,000 from East Lake Friends of the Library, $12,000 from overdue fines, $1,200 in facility rentals and $8,000 in miscellaneous funds for a total of $950,410.
The library has seven full time and 13 part time employees.
Lois Eannel, library director, talked about the library’s expansion project completed in December 2018. However, despite the 2,500 square feet in additional space, she says more is needed to meet the demands of the library’s members.
The library was unable to get money from the state this year for another construction project. It has applied for money from the upcoming Penny for Pinellas allocations.
Eannel said the parking project in front of the building is progressing and would allow for 15 more cars with four additional spots in the southeast corner. The project is being paid for with $150,000 from money the county received as part of a settlement from BP.
She said despite national trends, East Lake Library had an increase in circulation of books and other written materials. In addition, the library lends more titles to other libraries in the cooperative than it borrows.
“So I guess people like what we have,” she said.
Eannel said the library had added Sunday afternoon hours for three months to see if the public liked it, and the response had been “overwhelmingly positive.” Sunday hours will return in September and continue for most of the school year, she said.
The library also is working on ways for patrons to access materials outside normal hours. Other plans include updating the library’s website to be ADA compliant and putting more money into inside and outside services.
The library wants to become more of a cultural center and will be bringing back the Sunday Concert Series and creating a public art area. Eannel wants to work with area cultural groups to provide more diversity. The library recently completed its strategic plan for 2019-2022.
“East Lake Library has become the hub of our community,” Eannel said. “We strive to provide the best customer service.”
Residents of Palm Harbor pay a separate millage of 0.50 mills that funds the library and parks and recreation services. The millage should generate more than $2 million in revenue for FY 2020.
Half the money pays for library operating costs and the rest goes to parks and recreation. Each will receive an estimated $1,088,680. Another $76,340 will go to administrative costs with $111,080 to reserves.
In addition, the library will receive $268,500 from Pinellas Public Library Cooperative and an estimated $29,000 from Palm Harbor Friends of Library, $35,000 from overdue fines, $2,000 from facility rentals and $13,000 in miscellaneous income.
The library has 13 full time and 11 part time employees.
Palm Harbor Parks and Recreation will receive an estimated $293,860 from program fees, $261,000 from facility rentals, $63,000 from user group fees, $37,000 from special events and $63,000 in miscellaneous income.
Parks and Recreation has 15 full time and 18 part time employees.
Gene Coppola, Palm Harbor Library director, was sick and unable to attend. PHCSA Director Erica Lynford provided an update on recreation services.
Lynford said the community continues to support the work done by Parks and Recreation and had embraced the Christmas Tree Lighting event added last year. She said the event was so popular she had talked to the sheriff about closing streets for next year’s event. She said local businesses had benefited by having “packed” restaurants all night.
Recreation programs for toddlers to adults continue to be popular. A new program is high school volleyball that uses the sand volleyball courts during the day, and adults use the courts at night.
Examples of indoor programs include AARP’s safe driving classes, which are full each month, along with free monthly blood pressure and hearing checks, and free phones for the hearing impaired. A dementia and Alzheimer’s support group meets twice a week with over 600 people attending.
Other indoor programs include cardio drumming, duplicate bridge and bingo. Outdoor programs include baseball, softball, soccer, football, cheerleading, tennis, pickleball and more.
More than $9,000 has been awarded to parents who need help to pay for the center’s popular summer camps, Lynford said.
“The summer camp program has boomed through the roof with only seven spots left for 8 and under,” she said, adding that the camps for the older kids were almost full.
She said the all-day, 10-week camps, which are competitively priced, had added a service that had been missing in the Palm Harbor area. The camps also bring in about 30 percent of the revenue the center generates outside of ad valorem taxes.
However, while it is good that programs are continuing to grow in popularity, it means the recreation facility is running out of space. Lynford said the center might not be able to meet the community’s needs if PHCSA doesn’t get the Penny for Pinellas money it has requested.
She said a local architect had drawn up conceptual plans based on the space needed and funding requested. The current facility, built in the 1970s, has been “patched” repeatedly, she said. She said it was at the point where it needed to be decided whether current facility is obsolete.
If PHCSA does get Penny for Pinellas, the plan would be to build a new facility.
Commissioners plan to have a discussion on Penny for Pinellas funding in the near future.
Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.