Plan for ballfield can't be justified
Pinellas County wants to rezone 100 acres of undeveloped land along Old Keystone Road from a rural designation to "Recreation — Open Space" to allow expansion of ballfields for the sole use of a private organization, the East Lake Youth Sports Association (ELYSA).
With school enrollment down and Pinellas County basically built out, ELYSA has had to recruit youths from Pasco and Hillsborough counties to round out its teams. So, is an expansion really necessary?
If approved, the county could spend $2-million to develop this land and then lease the property to ELYSA for $1 a year. The county's Culture, Education and Leisure Department would purchase and manage this area.
This is perplexing, since reductions in the 2009 county budget resulted in the net loss of 60 positions in the Parks and Recreation division of the Culture, Education and Leisure Department alone. Employees have lost jobs, services have been cut, and new fees have been instituted. For example, reserving a shelter in a county park was free prior to Oct. 1, but will now cost the user $25.
Reductions in the MSTU (Municipal Services Taxing Unit) for unincorporated areas of the county led to the elimination of six Environmental Management code-enforcement positions and a 10 percent cut in operating support for the East Lake Library, among other cuts.
So why does Pinellas County want to build and fund a private sports complex? Yes, "Vision Pinellas," passed in February 2006, includes a strategic plan to construct ballfields in the northern and southern portions of the county. In this new economic reality, however, shouldn't that be considered a wish? Priorities!
Environmental impacts, traffic and noise are all negative factors that will have to be considered if this rezoning passes, and the costs of developing the property are likely to increase substantially. Whether this is funded through Penny for Pinellas or grants, Pinellas County taxpayers ultimately pay the bill.
How can the development of a private ballfield using county taxes be justified? This is not a county park for all county residents to use, but a private organization with high fees to participate in a sport.
Cutting services and eliminating positions throughout the county park system, then turning around and funding an expansion for a private organization that must draw participants from other counties does not make sense and is certainly not a prudent use of the Pinellas County taxpayers' money.
Stephanie Stefanelli, Tarpon Springs
City may go the full course story, Oct. 12
Don't bail out country club
Why does the Clearwater City Council feel that it has to come to the aid of the failing Clearwater Country Club? Council members say it's good business to purchase the clubhouse because the city already owns the golf course. The golf course, by everyone's admission, is failing due to the struggling economy. Courses throughout the state are struggling.
Mayor Frank Hibbard is quoted as saying, "I really don't want to do it, but I don't think we have a choice." City Manager Bill Horne states, "If we're going to do it, now's the time, when we have the reserves to do it. We think it's in the city's best interest."
My question is, why is it in the city's best interest to purchase a failing country club for $2-million out of reserve funds when we own the 100 acres surrounding it? I suggest the city sell the 100 acres to a developer who will put upscale housing and retail at the location. This could be something on the scale of what West Palm Beach has done with its "City Place" development. The upscale development would be great for the decaying East Gateway area and the neighborhoods surrounding the country club.
Clearwater does not need to bail out the failing country club at citizens' expense when it could serve the community far better with upscale development that will increase its tax base.
Joseph TenBieg, Clearwater
Eagles add a twist Oct. 15 story
Destroying way of life in Florida
Thanks so much to staff writer Theresa Blackwell and the St. Petersburg Times for writing about this important issue. The more people know about Wal-Mart's relentless attempts to build on environmentally sensitive lands, the better.
Big corporations like Wal-Mart are destroying our Floridian way of life by coming in and overbuilding and taking away the unique identity of our cities and towns, not to mention harming our wildlife.
Keep up the good work and please continue to write followups to this story to keep us updated on this important issue.
Vikki Rosenbaum, Palm Harbor
Clearwater has great workers
For the past two years I have been a member of the Clearwater Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. Besides being a member of the board, I am one of those participating in Clearwater's Citizens Academy this fall.
For 10 weeks, class members get weekly 21/2 hour meetings with different departments in city government. The idea is to educate citizens about city government — how it is run, why things are done the way they are, and a general knowledge of the city in which we live. I would recommend that anyone living in the city try to become a member of a future class. It is a great education.
With all that said, there are many fine programs, systems and departments in the city. The effort to do things correctly is apparent throughout the areas we have visited. I have been impressed with what the city is doing and how the city is trying to do good for the people who live here.
One element that has become clear is the superior work ethic of the employees I have met. I have never been in contact with so many employees of a company or a governmental body who feel so strongly about doing their work the right way for the right reasons. We, as citizens of Clearwater, should be very pleased with the people who are working for us.
I want to point out one individual in particular. Although there are many who deserve credit, this person goes way over the top for all of the people in the city and for many who live outside of the city. Terry Schmidt works in the Parks and Recreation Department. His job includes making sure all the events at Coachman Park come off without problems.
I know there are weeks that Terry works as much as 100 hours and perhaps more. His efforts go unnoticed by most of us, but they shouldn't. He is a major reason why the city is still able, during a time of cutbacks, to have the events many of us enjoy at Coachman and other parks.
So for me, I want to thank all the employees of the city for a job well done. Further, thank you Terry Schmidt for an outstanding effort. It is appreciated.
Ray Shaw, Clearwater