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East Lake Youth Sports faces challenges under new oversight

EAST LAKE — Extra cash is a new phenomenon for East Lake Youth Sports Association. The nonprofit volunteers who once fought to keep up with monthly payments on its fields now eye long-overdue maintenance projects, lower participation fees and a new lacrosse program.

The change in mind-set came last month when the County Commission approved a recreation tax that will generate an estimated $536,850 in revenue for fiscal year 2015.

But before upgrades and expansions take over the Old Keystone Road complex, there are practical matters to smooth over with the Palm Harbor Community Services Agency, the policy board that will govern ELYSA starting Oct. 1. PHCSA also oversees unincorporated North Pinellas entities like Palm Harbor and East Lake libraries, and Palm Harbor recreation.

At PHCSA's July 16 meeting, some board members expressed concern over how East Lake Recreation, as the new district is to be called, will mesh with the rest of the group.

"I don't want to see a we-versus-them effort," said board member Elliot Stern. "We want to see a cooperative effort. We want to make sure that that's the kind of environment we're going to experience."

The bulk of ELSYA's expenses will come from maintaining football, baseball and soccer fields. PHCSA board members expressed concern that East Lake's drafted budget looked nothing like that of Palm Harbor's, in terms of what expenses the group needed to budget for.

"It's been clear in our contention from day one that we want to maintain what we're doing up there and still satisfy your oversight and your desires," said ELYSA vice president Rob Posavec. "We don't want to change to become just like Palm Harbor just because that's the way it's been done. We want to maintain our individual identity, if you will."

Posavec spoke of preserving volunteer culture, the heart of the organization.

Many parents stay committed long after their children age out of the leagues.

East Lake Community Library director Lois Eannel asked Posavec to consider creating more paid staff positions, as opposed to relying on volunteers, who may not feel as accountable to PHCSA.

ELYSA initially planned on hiring only a part-time director, but its most recent budget draft allots for $52,489 in wages and benefits for a full-time employee. The organization must have one paid staff member to sit on PHCSA's board as a liaison.

Another change for ELYSA will be finding ways to generate revenue beyond just that required for field upkeep, said PHCSA chairman Rex Haslam. That could include renting out fields to private schools in the afternoons before the club teams begin practice.

Haslam assured his board that over the first fiscal year in operation, the athletics group will transform as it gets its bearings under the new system. It's a process he's used to overseeing, since he helped East Lake's library become a full-fledged PHCSA entity just last October.

"We know this takes time to transition and good things will come from it," he said.

Contact Julie Kliegman at [email protected] or (727) 445-4159. Follow @jmkliegman.

East Lake Youth Sports faces challenges under new oversight 08/14/14 [Last modified: Thursday, August 14, 2014 11:18am]
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