NORTH PINELLAS — The city managers of four local cities are in talks about a potential partnership that they envision could turn north Pinellas County into a "recreational destination."
If approved, Dunedin, Tarpon Springs, Safety Harbor and Oldsmar would honor one another's resident rates for certain recreational facilities and classes.
Under the proposal, residents would need only to flash the recreation ID card purchased in their respective cities for free access to skate parks, dance classes, senior citizen activities, youth athletics and other recreational programs in a partnering city.
The result? Added options and convenience for taxpayers, as well as potential revenue gains from added foot traffic. It also means deep savings for non-residents, who would otherwise pay anywhere from $55 to over $240 for an annual pass to a neighboring city's facilities. Resident rates range from free to $15 for a family.
"Not only can residents participate in activities that we might not offer," said Safety Harbor City Manager Matt Spoor, "but they can take classes that are more convenient to them because of time, day of the week or location."
The proposal would expand on the partnership adopted by Safety Harbor and Oldsmar in 2008.
Spoor said a study conducted after the first year of the agreement found that neither city had lost revenue on recreation fees. He said Safety Harbor has received "only positive feedback" from its residents.
"There was an increase in participation from both Oldsmar and Safety Harbor residents as a result of this," Spoor said.
Officials ticked off a number of reasons why such a proposal would benefit local government and taxpayers. Parents who work or whose children attend school in a different city could simply stop by the facility closest to them. The cities often share instructors, who typically teach in neighboring cities on different nights. If a child couldn't squeeze in karate class on Tuesday nights, then Wednesday nights in a nearby city might work better.
Oldsmar leisure services director Lynn Rives said an expanded partnership is also good for city tax rolls: "Anytime you can get traffic in any city … maybe they stop and eat at a restaurant or buy gas."
However, officials say the biggest draw is the unique offerings of each city.
For example, Dunedin, unlike its counterparts, has a city pool. Safety Harbor offers extensive activities for home-schooled students. Safety Harbor youths often travel to Oldsmar to participate in soccer and tackle football. Tarpon Springs offers several Greek cultural programs.
"This is going to help us as these budgets get thinner and thinner … to have these different opportunities that other cities can't offer," said Tarpon Springs City Manager Mark LeCouris.
Added Dunedin City Manager Rob DiSpirito: "We can jointly promote each other's programs. We could almost present recreation as a package deal."
Residents need not worry that they would be pushed out of an activity by non-residents, Spoor said.
As with Safety Harbor and Oldsmar's current contract, the proposed agreement wouldn't apply to youth summer camps or boat slip rentals, which have limited space. Officials said Tarpon Springs's and Dunedin's golf courses also would likely be exempt.
Furthermore, Spoor said, each city can impose restrictions on popular classes to ensure its residents "get the first bite of the apple."
"Each city still has the authority to just offer a resident period for registration and after that period is over, the non residents can register at the same rate," he said.
Spoor said he expects his city attorney's office to complete a draft agreement by early November, which would then be brought before the Tarpon and Dunedin city commissions for consideration.
Keyonna Summers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.