CLEARWATER — Facing a room packed with kids sporting ball caps and jerseys, a Pinellas County Commission on Tuesday unanimously approved a new property tax to fund the East Lake Youth Sports Association.
The vote creates the East Lake Recreation Services District and will levy a quarter-mill — 25 cents for every $1,000 of assessed property value — as a dedicated funding source for the private, nonprofit association. The boundaries will mirror those of the existing East Lake Tarpon Special Fire Control District.
"We need to invest in our kids and I think this is a good way to do it," Commissioner John Morroni said.
The tax will bring in an estimated $550,000 a year, allowing the association to tackle a laundry-list of repairs and improvements at its two facilities on Old Keystone Road, president Rick Watson told the board. The association is on an unsustainable path, charging much higher fees than surrounding clubs yet unable to pay for costly needs, Watson said.
"We're at a tipping point," he said.
The steady revenue will allow the association to eliminate the fees it charges three member organizations to maintain its facilities, allowing the groups to lower their registration fees. ELYSA will be able to set aside about $245,000 a year for new lights and irrigation, a lacrosse field, more concession stands and restrooms, among other needs.
Leaders of the three organizations — East Lake Little League Baseball, East Lake Youth Football and Cheerleading, and the West Florida Flames Soccer Club — vowed to reduce fees as much as possible.
Watson brought a petition with 530 signatures. Overflow crowds of supporters in two other rooms watched the hearing on television.
ELYSA will be overseen by the Palm Harbor Community Services Agency board, which has four County Commission appointees and one representative from each department it oversees. The East Lake Community Library is among them.
East Lake resident Roger Johnson, the lone speaker in opposition, told the board to stick to essential services or at least put the recreation tax on the ballot.
"We should put it up to a vote of the residents and see if they want to pay for this," he said.
Commissioners did voice concern about the precedent set by the vote and agreed to hold a work session to come up with ways to meet recreation needs in other unincorporated areas.