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Clearwater cuts summer camp at Morningside Recreation Center

CLEARWATER — Budget cuts are forcing the city to cancel a summer camp at the Morningside Recreation Center — a decision that doesn't sit well with one City Council member.

This came up Monday at a meeting where the council also discussed changing directions on a Clearwater Beach parking garage and freezing out private trash haulers by giving the city the exclusive right to haul away construction debris in Clearwater.

But the topic that caused the most angst Monday was the cancellation of Morningside's summer camp.

About 80 youths from ages 6 to 14 typically enroll in the camp at the rec center in southeast Clearwater. Now they'll be pointed toward the nearest alternative, a summer camp at the city's Long Center 2 miles away.

Parks and recreation director Kevin Dunbar said that, due to the city's hiring freeze, two employees who were running the Morningside Center are being moved to the busier Long Center to fill staff vacancies there.

As a result, the city on Monday began cutting back the hours that the Morningside Center is open. Some days, it's open only in afternoons and evenings, or only mornings and evenings — whenever there's a scheduled activity like a gymnastics or pottery class. (Morningside's pool won't be affected.)

Morningside's summer camp is canceled because the staffer who was going to do the planning for it will instead be planning the Long Center's camp.

Vice Mayor George Cretekos questioned Dunbar at length about whether this decision was really necessary and unavoidable. Cretekos noted that the camps are staffed by seasonal employees, often teachers on summer break. He asked why can't one parks administrator plan out summer camps for both centers?

Dunbar insisted that isn't realistic because of the workload that's involved: "Our supervisors are all hands-on. They get their hands dirty. They can't be in multiple places at once."

Clearwater will keep running summer camps not only at the Long Center, but also at its Countryside, North Greenwood and Ross Norton recreation centers.

Here are two other issues that the council discussed Monday:

Beach garage: Seeking to build a public parking garage on south Clearwater Beach, the city has been in talks with two competing property owners. However, the deal doesn't appear to be working out at the council's preferred location along the BeachWalk promenade. Officials decided Monday to ratchet up talks with their second option, a 1-acre lot a couple of blocks from the beach on Fifth Street.

Trash hauling: Clearwater's solid waste department is seeking the exclusive right to provide construction debris container and pickup services to contractors within the city limits.

None of the 10 commercial haulers registered to operate roll-off trash bins in Clearwater would be allowed to continue doing so. None are based in Clearwater, and a 2006 audit found they owed the city $377,000 in unpaid fees, said solid waste director Earl Gloster.

The city of Largo has the same policy, Gloster said. He added that Clearwater charges less than the private companies.

"I hate to see the government competing with the private sector," said City Council member Paul Gibson. But he was swayed by Gloster's argument that the city will save hundreds of work-hours by no longer monitoring the private haulers to make sure they're following rules and paying fees.

Council members are to make the final decision on this issue at their meeting Thursday night.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4160.

Clearwater cuts summer camp at Morningside Recreation Center 03/02/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 2, 2009 11:06pm]
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