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Clearwater may increase support for Long Center

Clearwater's financial support of the Long Center could increase as Safety Harbor's declines, under a proposal being considered by officials from the center and the two cities.

The cities' contributions would change under a plan that would base financial assistance on population, rather than on the amount of time residents spend at the recreational center.

Residents in both cities use the center, which has a standard Olympic swimming pool, basketball courts and other recreational facilities. Members pay a $60 annual fee, which is separate from what the cities contribute.

Under the current system, there is a built-in incentive for one of the cities to save money by cutting back on scheduling programs, said the center's executive director, Mark Abdo. That could shift more of the financial burden on the other city, he said. Safety Harbor, which has a population of 15,000, could be hit unfairly when compared to Clearwater, which has a population of about 100,000, he said.

"If we stay the way we are now, there's going to be a tendency to back out of programing," Clearwater City Manager Michael Wright said. "If we go to a population-based scenario of funding, we know what our costs are going in and then the fight's going to be, "How much time (at the center) can I have?' "

"What we're trying to do is increase the use of the facility," Clearwater Mayor Rita Garvey said. "The more people that use it, the cheaper it is to run."

The Long Center, which was built three years ago, gets about $175,000 a year from Clearwater to help cover its operating expenses. Safety Harbor gives about $64,000. The Center Foundation, the center's parent organization, gives $140,000, according to center records.

Clearwater's share could increase by about $27,000, said Parks and Recreation Director Ream Wilson. Safety Harbor's could drop about $5,100.

Clearwater and Safety Harbor residents are not the only ones who use the center each month, Wilson said. About 15 percent of the 3,000 people who use the facility live in Dunedin, Largo and unincorporated areas of the county. Commissioners want to press other communities for support.

"If 15 percent of the people using this facility are coming from the county, then that begs a question," Commissioner Fred Thomas said.

Thomas said the foundation's support also should increase.