CLEARWATER — In its continuing quest to pinch pennies, Clearwater is turning out the lights at most of its outdoor tennis and basketball courts.
The move is expected to save more than $20,000 a year in power bills. But the downside is that tennis players will have far fewer courts where they can play after dusk, and that has some City Council members wondering whether the city is going a little too far.
City workers are removing the lights on 46 of 64 courts scattered in neighborhoods all over Clearwater, said parks and recreation director Kevin Dunbar.
Players on those courts could push a button to turn on the lights for an hour at a time. But now the lights are on the way out, meaning that Clearwater residents will have only two city-owned locations where they can play nighttime tennis.
The 15-court McMullen Tennis Complex, located in the Morningside area, charges $3 an hour or a monthly membership fee. And the Clearwater Beach Recreation Complex, which has three courts, does not charge a fee. The lights will stay on at the beach rec center partly because it's popular with tourists, Dunbar said.
Officials plan to use a bit of money from downtown property taxes to bring back the lights at a third location, the four-court Bayfront Tennis Complex near City Hall. Those courts are useful for marketing the new downtown boat slips to boaters, said Assistant City Manager Rod Irwin.
City Council members had a couple of questions about all of this at their work session Monday.
George Cretekos wondered why the city isn't putting meters on the lights so that tennis players can pay to keep them on.
"We've tried it before," Dunbar said, but the meters typically got vandalized and didn't generate much money.
Mayor Frank Hibbard said he understands the need for cost-cutting but said he is concerned that the city isn't making its facilities available to residents "at the times when they really want to use them."
He said the Countryside area of Clearwater is now without a lighted tennis court, so he suggested bringing the lights back at Forest Run Park or Woodgate Park.
"There may be the need for flexibility," he said.
The city has gotten a couple dozen complaints about the issue so far, but Dunbar downplayed that, saying that a number of the complaints have come from out-of-town players who come to Clearwater to use the courts.
Dunbar and City Manager Bill Horne both made the point that the city can't afford to do everything that it has in the past.
The lights are still on at the city's soccer, football and softball fields, but city officials noted that leagues and teams that play on those fields pay for those lights.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4160.