SEMINOLE — Should the city of Seminole take over ballfields of the Seminole Youth Athletic Association?
That’s the question the City Council is considering following a plea for action Feb. 9 from a representative of the Greater Seminole Area Special Recreation District from which the SYAA fields are leased.
Speaking at a council workshop, attorney Tim Schuler said the district was nearly out of funds. If the city of Seminole or Pinellas County did not take over the property, it could be sold to a developer, he said.
He said the district was created by a special act of the Florida Legislature in 1980 as an independent governmental entity and was allowed to assess taxes for three years to fund the district. Some $600,000 in revenue was received, and some $300,000 was spent to buy the property from the school district. Since then, repeated referendums to renew its taxing ability have failed, he said. The district now has about $4,500 in its accounts.
The district “has perpetual existence but no income source,” Schuler said, and outlined its options for its future. The district can’t get a mortgage because it has no income. If it were to dissolve, the district’s governing body is unsure how the remaining funds could be disbursed.
Should Pinellas County government agree to assume the property, Schuler said he believed the county would incorporate it into a “recreation district” with recreation facilities at Cross Bayou Little League and the Seminole Junior Warhawks Soccer Complex. Each facility could be restricted to playing a specific sport, which SYAA users had indicated they did not favor.
“I’ve got to recommend to my board that they’ve got to do something. We can’t continue this way,” Schuler said.
He urged city officials to act quickly if it was interested in the district’s property. A bill would have to be written and presented to the Legislature by October for action in the 2022 session. If the bill was passed, the district’s board could then sign the property over to the city.
The city would have to renegotiate the contract with SYAA, which has 30 years remaining on its lease agreement with the district, he said.
Seminole now knows how to do a lot of the things the recreation district was created to do, Schuler said. “I do think this is something good for the city. I implore you to take a look at it.”
Some councilors expressed interest in the city acquiring the property but requested more information from district officials.
Councilor Jim Olliver said he wanted to know if the city would have to make improvements to the fields. While families support SYAA, he said the council needed information.
“Are the needs of the city congruent with the needs of SYAA?” he asked. “It’s clearly worth having the conversation, but we’ve got to have that data on whether this is something our community needs.”
“There is a need,” added Councilor Chris Burke, “I’m totally in support of this project.”
He echoed Olliver’s statement that more information was needed, such as how many groups played at the fields, and the ages and number of children that participated in events there.
Councilor Trish Springer noted that parents have donated “hours and hours” to maintain the fields. She expressed a “very strong interest” in not having the park sold to a developer.
However, maintenance could involve some expense. Replacing the lights, when that became necessary, would cost “six figures,” Springer said.
In other news
• In a business meeting before the workshop, Olliver criticized state Rep. Nick DiCeglie for filing bills that Olliver considered a “frontal attack on home rule.” He requested that DiCeglie be invited to a council meeting
Mayor Leslie Waters opposed that idea, suggesting instead that members of the council go to DiCeglie’s office and “once and for all letting him know the importance of home rule.”
• Earlier, Waters said that in a letter Sheriff Bob Gualtieri notified her that crime in the city had dropped 20% between 2010 and 2019.
• The council gave final approval to the voluntary annexations of properties at 10111 109th St. N. and 11003 101st Ave. N.
• A ribbon-cutting for the playground at Blossom Park Lake will be conducted Feb. 25 at 5:30 p.m.
• Recreation Director Becky Gunter said she expected work on Waterfront Park to be completed by March. 1.