ST. PETERSBURG — Here's the pitch: Approve a property tax levy for the East Lake Youth Sports Association and the group will be able to lower its registration fees, fix its aging facility and expand for future generations.
For more than three decades, the association has survived on revenue from fees and county grants to offer youth baseball, soccer and football. Now the nonprofit wants a steady stream of public money and is asking the County Commission to approve a quarter mil levy, which would add 25 cents to every $1,000 of taxable property value.
The tax would bring in an estimated $550,000 a year, allowing the association to tackle a laundry list of repairs, bring its fees in line with nearby sports clubs and create a reserve fund for future projects, president Rick Watson told the commission at workshop this week.
"The way we've survived up to this point is to charge more than anybody else charges and we'd really like our fess to be competitive with surrounding clubs" Watson said.
East Lake's fees are about $60 to $100 higher than clubs in Countryside, Oldsmar, Palm Harbor and Tarpon Springs, prompting parents to enroll their children elsewhere, Watson said. That means East Lake's fixed annual expenses of about $300,000 have to be born by fewer participants in the association's three primary sports organizations: East Lake Little League Baseball, East Lake Youth Football and Cheerleading, and the West Florida Flames Soccer Club.
Watson said the association has delayed major repairs and expansion plans because the cost can't be covered from its current revenue.
Between 1982 and 2012, the association and its member organizations have developed, operated and maintained the 27-acre complex at 3555 Old Keystone Road in Tarpon Springs. The complex features six lighted baseball fields, two football fields, three soccer fields, three concession stands, a press box and several other structures. The association has used about $934,000 in county grants over the years to make improvements there.
In 2011, the group got a $1 million county grant to develop a 100-acre parcel just east of the Keystone Road facility. The East Lake Meadows opened a year later and currently features two soccer fields.
The original site needs new lights, a new irrigation system and repairs to existing buildings. The Meadows Complex needs restrooms. Both sites need parking lot repairs. Grand total: $625,000.
"We've been spending a lot of money Band-Aiding those things," Watson said. "That does not solve the problem. It just pushes it a little further out."
The association wants to spend $700,000 to build a lacrosse field at the Meadows and create an organization to grow what Watson called one of the fastest-growing sports in the country.
The steady stream of funding would also help pay for a part-time or full-time director. The club's administrative work is currently done by volunteers.
Watson said his group so far has collected more than 500 signatures from people who support the tax.
The boundaries for the tax would be same as the East Lake Fire District. The board asked Watson to bring back a more detailed projected budget and the petition to its June 24 meeting.
"I do think it's important, before we go down that path, that we have clear understanding of how fast the support is from the community," Commissioner Janet Long said.
Another option is to put a referendum on the ballot. The residents of East Lake have rejected a recreation tax in three elections, the last one in 1996.
Commissioner Susan Latvala said the demographics have shifted since then, with more families who would be inclined to support a tax for recreation.
"There are lots more children now," she said.
East Lake resident Roger Johnson asked the board to reject the idea and help the association with grant dollars.
"We've been taxed enough," Johnson said.