ST. PETERSBURG — It was another hot and sticky day, and they were full of energy. So after school, Javonta McCloud and his Lakewood High buddies jumped in his car last week and took a drive up to the North Shore Recreation center on Beach Drive NE.
After a few laps in the spacious pool, they were told that city leaders are considering cuts affecting the city's nine pools and 13 recreation centers. The teens shook their heads in distaste.
"Basically, it just keeps us off the street," McCloud, 17, said of the facilities.
Added his friend Edwin Bryant, also 17: "It keeps us away from all the drama that's going on."
At the request of Mayor Rick Baker, all department managers have assembled three plans for cutting costs. The city has an $18 million budget hole this year. It has already begun trimming back staff and services, but $12 million more in cutbacks are needed by the end of summer.
At a budget session last week, several City Council members decried the most severe cuts to the Recreation Department, saying they would endanger hundreds of bored teenagers who need a way to let off steam, families who need help with child care and adults looking for an inexpensive way to stay in shape.
"We're in a tough economic time," said City Council member Karl Nurse. "To me this is the last time you'd want to cut recreational facilities."
In the Recreation Department, the least-drastic reduction package would save $550,346. It would eliminate certain expenses across all facilities, including uniforms, special programs, security, supplies, and part-time staffing. It would also increase some fees, such as play camp, room rental and child care.
In this option, the summer program at the Enoch Davis Center, 1111 18th Ave. S, would be eliminated.
The next reduction package slashes $1,047,896. It adds the closings of the Jennie Hall Pool, 1025 26 St. S, and the Shore Acres Pool, 4142 Shore Acres Blvd. NE. Operating hours at the Frank Pierce Center, 2000 Seventh St. S, would be reduced.
The most severe cuts would save $1,681,214. That plan would eliminate the Shore Acres Recreation Center and wipe away plans for improvements at the North Shore Pool, funds for special events and new equipment.
"I think that would be terrible," said Nancy Day, 58, a teacher at Meadowlawn Middle School who was swimming last week at the North Shore Pool.
Day said the North Shore Pool was already so crowded that sometimes you can't get a lane, so reducing hours elsewhere would make things worse at the city's premier pool.
City services administrator Clarence Scott said the reduction packages were carefully considered. The smallest plan, he said, would be felt only subtly, "to the point that the public probably wouldn't even notice."
The Shore Acres and Jennie Hall pools and the Shore Acres center have the lightest attendance and are in the oldest buildings, Scott said. Among summer programs, the Enoch Davis program has the smallest attendance.
City Council member Herb Polson said his colleagues were too troubled with the depth of cuts in the larger reduction plans to consider them. When constituents talk to him about city pools, Polson noted, they say they should be free.
But with the budget ax leveled at the Police Department as well, some are already bracing for some form of impact on recreational facilities.
"We know that some of this is going to happen," said Barbara Heck, president of the St. Petersburg Council of Neighborhood Associations. Heck said others are devising alternatives, "but it takes money and it takes volunteers and it takes people willing to give their time, and that's where we're looking."
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference is among those brainstorming for solutions. They are also seeking ways to help teens find summer jobs, which are also lacking this year.
"If we don't accomplish those two things," said Sevell C. Brown III, president of the organization, "we are in for a long hot summer."
The first opportunity for the public to weigh in on the budget is during a July 9 public forum at City Hall.
Luis Perez can be reached at (727)892-2271 or [email protected]