Thursday, April 26, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: County should move with care on East Lake recreation tax

For 30 years, the private nonprofit East Lake Youth Sports Association has been the only provider of large-scale, organized recreation for kids in the swath of unincorporated northeast Pinellas County known as East Lake. County government's policy to provide parks but not recreation programming seemed satisfactory to East Lake residents, who in three different referendums turned down the option of taxing themselves for recreation services. But now ELYSA's leaders are asking county commissioners to levy a tax on East Lake residents to pay for the sports complex's operations and expansion.

While commissioners have authority to do so without a referendum, they should not move forward until they have a more thorough accounting of ELYSA's finances and also can assure taxpayers that a group with a 30-year history of private operations is ready to transition to a transparent public agency.

ELYSA previously received help from taxpayers for infrastructure, but not through a direct levy on East Lake residents. The county gave the group 27 acres off Old Keystone Road for the East Lake Youth Sports Complex, which has six baseball fields, two football fields, three soccer fields, concessions, restrooms and parking. The county also has provided grants: almost $1 million between 2000 and 2010.

East Lake's population has trended younger, so ELYSA, bursting at the seams, looked for a place to expand but had no luck until Pinellas County purchased the 871-acre Eldridge-Wilde well field and dedicated 100 acres of it across the street from ELYSA's complex to future recreational use. On six leased acres there, ELYSA now operates two soccer fields built with about $1 million from the county.

Under ELYSA's new request, property owners in the East Lake Tarpon Special Fire Control District would pay a quarter-mill — 25 cents for every $1,000 of assessed property value — for ELYSA's operations and expansion. Officials estimate the tax would raise around $575,000 a year to cover annual operating costs of $300,000 and to start addressing $1.3 million worth of capital projects, including lights and irrigation, a lacrosse field, more concession stands and restrooms. An executive director also would be hired.

East Lake has a population of more than 30,000 and many more children than it did decades ago. The need for organized recreation is apparent. A structure already exists for administering such a tax. West of Lake Tarpon, residents of unincorporated Palm Harbor have paid a quarter-mill tax for recreation and a quarter-mill for library services since 1985. Oversight is by the Palm Harbor Community Services Agency board, which has four County Commission appointees and one rep from each department it oversees: the Palm Harbor Library, the Palm Harbor Recreation Department and the East Lake Community Library. ELYSA leaders have proposed becoming the fourth department it oversees.

But no other agency program had a lengthy history as a private nonprofit before going public, which could lead to some transition problems. County commissioners have had difficulty getting a thorough pro forma budget from the group's leaders, who are volunteers. Before commissioners vote on a tax levy, they should spell out the transparency and public records requirements under which ELYSA will have to operate as well as how ELYSA's financial records will be maintained. They should also require assurances that ELYSA's programs will seek to serve all East Lake children, even those who may need some financial subsidy. A publicly financed operation must come with an obligation to public service and public scrutiny, too.

Comments
Editorial: St. Petersburg’s waste-to-energy to wastefulness project

Editorial: St. Petersburg’s waste-to-energy to wastefulness project

A St. Petersburg waste-to-energy plant now under construction has been billed for years as an environmentally friendly money saver. Now it looks more like a boondoggle, with the cost and mission changing on the fly. It’s yet another example of a city...
Updated: 3 hours ago

‘Happy hour’ tax cuts may result in hangovers

Evidence is mounting that the $1.5 trillion tax-cut package enacted in December by congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump was a bad idea, not only for the long-run health of the economy but for the short-term political prospects of the ...
Published: 04/25/18
Editorial: As USFSP consolidation task force meets, openness and collaboration are key

Editorial: As USFSP consolidation task force meets, openness and collaboration are key

Writing a new law that phases out separate accreditation for the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and folds it back into the major research university was the easy part. The hard work starts today when a new consolidation task force holds i...
Published: 04/23/18
Updated: 04/25/18

Correction

CorrectionCircuit Judge John Stargel of Lakeland is a member of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission who voted against a proposed amendment that would have stopped write-in candidates from closing primary elections. An editorial Saturday inco...
Published: 04/23/18
Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Not too many people took then-candidate Donald Trump seriously when he famously campaigned to "drain the swamp" as president. But that shouldn’t give this administration a free pass to excuse the behavior of Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Env...
Published: 04/22/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Allegiant Air’s safety record remains troubling, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s reluctance to talk about it is no more encouraging. Those are the key takeaways from a 60 Minutes report on the low-cost carrier’s high rate of mid-flight brea...
Published: 04/21/18

Editorial: Women’s work undervalued in bay area

Even a strong economy and low unemployment cannot overcome the persistent pay gap affecting full-time working women in Florida. A new report shows women in Florida earned 12.5 percent less on average than their male counterparts, and the disparities ...
Published: 04/21/18
Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Florida lawmakers may never take the death penalty off the books, but stronger forces are steadily eroding this inhumane, outdated tool of injustice. Court rulings, subsequent changes to law and waning public support have significantly suppressed the...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/24/18

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Published: 04/20/18