Tampa may give preference in rec programs to residents

Judy Blanco, 44, hugs her daughter Toni, 7, after arriving to pick her up from a program at the Hunt Community Center in Al Lopez Park. The Blancos, who live within the city limits, have been bringing Toni to the center since she was 5. There is a waiting list for the fall program.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Judy Blanco, 44, hugs her daughter Toni, 7, after arriving to pick her up from a program at the Hunt Community Center in Al Lopez Park. The Blancos, who live within the city limits, have been bringing Toni to the center since she was 5. There is a waiting list for the fall program.

TAMPA — Mayor Pam Iorio wants to end a long-standing policy that opens Tampa's recreation programs equally to city residents and outsiders.

"It's something that we are looking to implement very, very soon," said Santiago Corrada, Tampa's neighborhood services administrator, "giving city residents first crack at the programs the city residents are paying for."

The change would create two sign-up periods for each recreation program. The first would be open only to city residents. The second would let others sign up for the openings that remain.

"Many other cities charge more for noncity residents than for city residents, and we've never done that," said Mayor Pam Iorio. "What I feel more comfortable with, rather than a pricing differential, is giving city residents first choice in registration for programs."

But Iorio hasn't ruled out a differential either, she said.

Last week, Iorio received a complaint from a New Tampa constituent who said noncity residents seemed to be filling up programs at the New Tampa Recreation Center, which features a concentration on gymnastics.

Most of New Tampa lies within city limits, but 4 square miles of neighborhoods are noncity. And thousands of Pasco County residents live minutes away from the new center.

Iorio promptly directed Corrada and Karen Palus, the recreation director, to develop a new system.

They must iron out several questions. For example, Tampa's Wayne C. Papy Athletic Center has compiled a years-old waiting list with 1,500 names. Should outsiders receive some consideration for their tenure on the list? And some recreation classes involve progression from class to class. Should the city crowd out an outsider in mid-progression?

Corrada said changes would spare outsiders from being expelled from current programs. And city officials plan to determine whether outsiders truly are displacing city taxpayers in any programs.

"Anecdotally, my staff tells me that people use our programs from all over the county," Iorio said.

Yet if there was a problem in New Tampa, it was short-lived.

On Tuesday, registration opened at 10 a.m. for the center's fall schedules. Parents arrived early.

"They were camped out at 6:15," said center director Patti Gross. "By 9:30, the line was up to the soccer field, all the way down the road."

Heather Roberto, a city resident in Hunter's Green, drove up at 10:10, hoping to enroll her two preschool sons in a tots gymnastics program. She drove away, but understood the crush.

"Thirty-five dollars for 10 weeks!" she said. "It's ridiculous. Not only is it affordable, but nothing else is close by."

Managers devised a staff shuffle to add more classes at the center. By 6:30 p.m., everyone had been signed up, Gross said.

By Friday, there was a waiting list of only six children.

Bill Coats can be reached at (813) 269-5309 or coats@sptimes.com.

Tampa may give preference in rec programs to residents 08/08/08 [Last modified: Friday, August 8, 2008 11:02pm]

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