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County Commission votes for makeover of Palm Harbor Community Services Agency

PALM HARBOR — Phil Phillips is a member of the Palm Harbor Community Services Agency, an appointed board that oversees the Palm Harbor and East Lake libraries and Palm Harbor recreation.

Phillips hoped to serve again next year, but now he's not sure he'll be invited back.

Last week the Pinellas County Commission passed an ordinance that changes the makeup of PHCSA. In the future, county commissioners will choose the appointees for four of the board's seven seats.

The change was spurred by the recent creation of a new taxing district in East Lake, an unincorporated area east of Lake Tarpon, to support the East Lake Community Library.

"If I apply to serve on the new board, there's a strong chance that the commissioners might not pick me,'' Phillips said.

The board now has two seats filled by appointees of the Friends of the Palm Harbor Library, two seats filled by the Palm Harbor Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, two seats filled by the Palm Harbor Chamber of Commerce and one seat filled by a County Commission appointee.

The County Commission voted Tuesday to change that so the commission will have the majority of appointees.

Beginning Nov. 1, the PHCSA board will have one appointee from the Palm Harbor Library, one from Palm Harbor recreation, one from the East Lake Library Advisory Board and four County Commission appointees — two of those from East Lake and two from Palm Harbor, the unincorporated area west of Lake Tarpon.

The Greater Palm Harbor Chamber of Commerce will lose its seats.

So, potentially, could Phillips, who is one of two current appointees from the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.

"It's like they told us, you guys are not doing a good job, and we're sending up four people who will do a better job,'' said Phillips.

Another PHCSA member, Marcus Harrison, a representative from the Palm Harbor Chamber, also expressed frustration. He's disappointed that the chamber's seats were eliminated.

"The chamber has a long history with PHCSA and has always communicated information to the business community about PHCSA issues,'' he said. "It takes people who understand the unique environment of PHCSA to serve on the board.''

The reason for the changes: PHCSA, originally set up in 1985 to oversee just Palm Harbor's library and recreation taxing districts, now must pull members from East Lake too because of the new library taxing district there, said Chief Assistant County Administrator Mark Woodard.

"It used to be everyone came from Palm Harbor, but that just isn't the case now,'' he said.

Though some residents may have been surprised by the County Commission decision Tuesday, Woodard said it wasn't done in a vacuum.

"I have vetted all of this to Rex Haslam, the chair of PHCSA, and we received comments also from Ron Schultz of the East Lake Library Advisory Board, and I believe that each of those gentlemen floated early drafts to the stakeholders,'' he said.

Haslam said he believes the community will ultimately work well under the new system.

"Right now, though, it's just a matter of understanding how this will all move forward,'' he said. "The only thing that concerned me was that I did want each of the three entities (Palm Harbor Library, Palm Harbor Recreation and East Lake Library) to have two representatives, but they thought a nine-member board was too big, I guess.''

County Commissioner Susan Latvala, who represents Palm Harbor, said Tuesday that she hopes the new ordinance will bring about another change. "I hope that everyone can start thinking about it as one community,'' she said.

She also spoke in favor of eliminating the chamber's seats, pointing out that there is now more than one chamber serving East Lake and Palm Harbor. "And if you were talking to (the other chambers), they'd say that they represent the citizens as well."

The ordinance passed 5-1, with Commissioner Norm Roche dissenting. Ken Welch was absent due to the death of his father.

So, how can citizens become PHCSA members?

In the coming weeks, Pinellas County will begin advertising, primarily through its website, pinellascounty.org, as well as through social media, that residents of the East Lake and Palm Harbor taxing districts may apply for a PHCSA seat.

Although an official application deadline has not been announced, by the end of October county commissioners plan to review the applications and discuss appointments, Woodard said.

In January, the new PHCSA board members will attend their first meeting.

For now, even chairman Haslam, a recreation appointee who planned to serve the agency in some capacity next year, is not sure what the future holds.

"It's all in the works," he said, "and we just have to see how it plays out.''

Piper Castillo can be reached at (727) 445-4163 or pcastillo@tampabay.com. To write a letter to the editor, visit tampabay.com/letters.

County Commission votes for makeover of Palm Harbor Community Services Agency 09/20/13 [Last modified: Friday, September 20, 2013 7:21pm]
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