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East Lake could get donation of facility

If voters agree to tax themselves to pay for a community recreation program, the directors of the Upper Pinellas Youth Sports Complex will donate the 26-acre facility to the community. The 20 directors voted unanimously this week to donate the complex to an agency that will be appointed by the Pinellas County Commission to run the community's recreation program if the referendum passes Nov. 6.

East Lake voters will decide whether to accept a pair of new property taxes, one to pay for a community library, the other to finance a public recreation program.

The growing, affluent area east of Lake Tarpon has no library, and the only recreation program for its more than 16,000 residents is run by volunteers at the complex.

A group of North Pinellas residents formed the Upper Pinellas Youth Sports Association in 1982 and bought the land for the complex from the county in 1984. Since then, volunteers using donated money have transformed the property on Old Keystone Road.

It has five partially built baseball fields, a pair of football fields and three soccer fields, as well as an underground irrigation system, electronic scoreboards and an announcer's stand.

Last spring 250 boys and girls ages 6 to 15 used the baseball fields for Little League play, said association president Bill Nobles. He said about 250 children are using the football fields, and another 300 are using the soccer fields.

Opponents of the upcoming referendum contend the association wants to foist the complex and its liabilities onto the taxpayers.

The association has yet to pay off a $17,000 loan secured by a mortgage on the complex, Nobles said. The only other liability is a lease on a mower, he said.

Should the referendum pass, the County Commission would appoint 11 people to a community services agency that would run East Lake library and recreation programs. The agency either could accept the association's offer to take over the complex or reject it and attempt to set up its own program at a new location.

If the referendum fails or the community services agency turns down the offer, Nobles predicted his association would have a hard time carrying on alone.

"With such limited commercial development in the East Lake area, along with the fact that you can tap the same businesses and individuals only so many times for cash donations and volunteer time, the future success of the complex does not look good without the support of the entire community," he said in a news release distributed Tuesday.

Supporters and opponents of the library and recreation taxes are scheduled to debate at a public forum at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, 1555 Windmill Pointe Road. The forum will be sponsored and moderated by community activist Pat Imperato.