CITRUS PARK — The county has $1.9 million set aside for a Citrus Park community center it can't afford to operate.
Officials are asking residents to come up with new ideas for spending the money, but some insist that the community center idea not be abandoned.
The county made a promise six years ago, they say, and it should be kept.
"Community center is needed for children and seniors," Judy Armandez wrote on her comment form during a recent meeting on the matter.
"I believe the funding should be used to purchase land to build a community center in the future," Carolyn Glavan wrote.
The county originally allocated $2.8 million for the community center project. Over the years, however, environmental concerns put the center on hold and the county redirected some of that money to other projects, including a shelter at Carrollwood Elementary.
In 2009, officials identified a potential site for the center next to Citrus Park Elementary, but residents balked at the proposed partnership with the school district.
With $1.9 million left, the county says the project is no longer feasible and would cost too much in the long run.
"Hillsborough County cannot afford at this economic time to consider adding costs to our parks and recreation program that will increase operating cost because we just don't have the money to staff it, to pay the upkeep on it," county spokesman Steve Valdez said.
About 50 people attended a community meeting last week and shared their ideas on how to spend the money.
Some suggested more sidewalks and streetlights. Others called for infrastructure improvements like stormwater drainage and sanitation hookups.
Grant Walters, a longtime Citrus Park area resident, thinks the county should commission a comprehensive study of Citrus Park to identify all the infrastructure, drainage and flooding issues that have been neglected over the years.
"I don't feel like the county has done anything to stand up to the responsibilities that they have," he said.
Among those who want a community center, some say the project could be in tandem with expansion at the Citrus Park Little League.
Valdez said the county is depending on residents to reach a consensus on how to spend the money and hopes the community will eventually rally around a single plan. Eventually, the County Commission will make the final decision.
Commissioner Kevin Beckner said he is open to all ideas and hasn't ruled out a community center, but that the long-term costs of any proposal will be a factor.
He got involved this year when the county indicated that the money allocated for the Citrus Park community center would be transferred to a proposed regional athletic complex in the Keystone area.
Not only did residents of that rural community reject the county's plan, but many insisted that the money earmarked for Citrus Park should remain there.
Beckner and the rest of the commission agreed.
"It concerned me that dollars that have already been allocated to one community were being transferred to another community," he said. "We need to make sure that those dollars are used for the purposes of investing in Citrus Park."
Tia Mitchell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3405.