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Pasco County okays funds for sports complex off Trinity Boulevard

DADE CITY — County Commissioner Jack Mariano wanted to reignite the debate Tuesday over the proposed sports complex off Trinity Boulevard. But his colleagues weren't game.

In a 4 to 1 vote, commissioners approved a financing plan for the proposed $12 million complex: $3.4 million in tourist taxes, $3.8 million in parks impact fees and $4.7 million from the proceeds of a bond issue.

At the outset, Mariano raised his key criticisms of the five softball fields project: That it shouldn't be funded with tourism money because it won't generate hotel stays and that it shouldn't be funded with impact fees because it has limited times for local youth play.

And he wants commissioners to consider moving the location to the larger Starkey Ranch site, which would cost more to prep for development.

But commissioners, who reached the agenda item after a nearly 8-hour meeting, weren't biting.

"This project has been vetted, dissected, discussed. We've had public hearings, talked about it at great length … I think this is a very fair and equitable way to spend the public dollars," said Commissioner Ted Schrader, noting that there is plenty of money left over for other projects in the county.

"Mr. Mariano is trying to revisit an issue that has already been decided," said Commissioner Michael Cox. "He was on the losing end of that issue.'

Sportsplex USA, the California-based consultant that is negotiating with county officials to operate the facility, has recommended that evening weekday play be aimed at local adult softball leagues, freeing up fields at other parks for youth sports. Weekends would be devoted to tournaments designed to attract visitors.

After the sports complex is built, the staff recommendation says, Pasco could use $2 million in park impact fees to replace softball fields at nearby Mitchell Park on Little Road with additional soccer fields. Another $400,000 would go toward expanding the Mitchell Park concession stands.

Mariano objected to the idea of taking away the softball fields at Mitchell. "You're not taking care of the children of this county," he said.

Cox said that the softball fields at Mitchell are used for adults right now. So replacing them with soccer fields would be giving children more play time, he said.

Commissioner Ann Hildebrand, who had once advocated for the Starkey Ranch site, told Mariano she'd asked county engineer Jim Widman what it would cost to build the necessary road if the project were to locate there. He told her more than $4 million.

"I can't accept (spending) that kind of money," she said.

Mariano told the Pasco Times last week that he was also dismayed at the flooding at the Trinity site after the heavy rains. Commissioners dismissed that comment as well.

Cox said after he read those comments, he visited the Starkey Ranch site that Mariano was advocating instead. "So help me God," Cox said, "there were two cows up to their chests in water."

Pasco County okays funds for sports complex off Trinity Boulevard 03/16/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 16, 2010 9:18pm]
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