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Writers group feels pinched by Largo fee increase

LARGO — The city raised recreation fees for everything from pool use to room rental earlier this year in hopes the added revenue could offset impending budget cuts.

For the most part, said parks director Joan Byrne, the fees have been met with minimal public complaint and bring Largo's fees in line with other nearby cities.

But for one Pinellas nonprofit organization, which will soon be charged twice as much ($20, from $10 per hour) to rent a room for its weekly meetings at the Highland Recreation Center, the new fees may mean leaving Largo in favor of another venue.

Or worse yet, said Pete Kaszyk, president of the Pinellas Authors and Writers Organization, shutting down a 23-year-old club.

"It would really be a shame to have us disband because we can't afford the rent," Kaszyk said.

The writers organization, which has more than 120 members, uses Highland Rec Center for weekly workshops, where writers from around the county share their work and discuss the literary arts.

Kaszyk said the group, which charges a $25 annual membership, has been using the Largo facility for 19 years — and many members have limited financial wiggle room. The site was chosen because of its central location, since group members are from all parts of Pinellas.

"A lot of them are senior citizens on a fixed income. Doubling their dues is, well, I'm sure we're going to lose a lot of members by doing that," he said.

At Tuesday's City Commission meeting, several members attended to ask city leaders to rescind the increase.

Byrne said that while she takes no pleasure in charging more to use city facilities, Largo's fees have been lower than average until now.

"We were underpriced for a long time," she said. "We are really not trying to gouge anybody. But given the constraints we're under, it's close the rec center or increase revenue."

Kaszyk said he is searching for alternative but is coming up short of finding a suitable site.

"We've looked at libraries," he said. "But they're not going to commit for a whole year. We've talked to churches. We don't want to travel to different ends of the county."

Other groups, like local swim teams, also have faced fee increases recently.

Youth swim team membership fees increased from $15 per season to $6 per month, plus a yearly fee of $10.

Still, Byrne said, the rate is competitive, and swimmers still continue to use the pool.

"We would understand if they wanted to move someplace else," she said, "but I don't think they would find a better deal."

Dominick Tao can be reached at dtao@sptimes.com or (727) 580-2951.

Writers group feels pinched by Largo fee increase 08/21/10 [Last modified: Saturday, August 21, 2010 4:31am]
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