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Center backers take bid to voters

Fearing that misinformation will derail their movement for a tax-supported community center, advocates have invited the public to a pre-election town meeting.

"That's been our real problem, getting through to people," said Jerry Hooker, an organizer of the campaign for the center.

The 24-member volunteer committee, called Palm Harbor Community Center Inc., will host the meeting at 7 p.m. Nov. 3 in the Senior Center.

Supporters hope residents in the Palm Harbor fire district will vote Nov. 8 to adopt a tax of 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed property to pay for the center. Their goal is to build a facility somewhere close to downtown for large public events like dances, parties and meetings.

The tax would raise about $5-million over 10 years, committee member Trent Roark estimated. The building itself should cost a little more than $2-million, he said.

"When you start talking about raw figures, you see that it is feasible," Roark said.

Several of the center's strongest advocates gathered Wednesday morning for doughnuts, coffee and a news conference at the Greater Palm Harber Chamber of Commerce to discuss the campaign's final 1{ weeks.

They said they feared letters to the editor in local newspapers by opponents would damage their campaign by misinforming voters.

So the panel of community center backers listed facts:

The tax would expire after 10 years.

No tax money has been used in the campaign, despite an offer from the Palm Harbor Community Services Agency to funnel the group $10,000.

The group has no specific plans on services that would occupy the center, although members are considering offering space to the Palm Harbor senior center, among other organizations.

If the center is approved, the Pinellas County Commission would appoint a nine-member board to oversee it. The board would be independent of the Community Services Agency.

And the backers offer a promise: The center would be self-supporting after 10 years.

"If this does pass, then we will begin to work real hard to get input from the community on what they want," Hooker said. "We honestly feel that there's a whole lot of good to be had from this center."

Center supporters have encountered opposition from pockets of residents in areas that have existing centers, like Highland Lakes, Ozona and Crystal Beach.

Some opponents, such as Patrick Romano of Highland Lakes, have suggested using Palm Harbor University High School when it opens in 1996 instead of building a community center. Others have said existing facilities, such as the Masonic Lodge, are adequate.

The center "is a good idea if we didn't have anything like this marvelous building coming up shortly," Romano said. "A tax is fine justifiably used."

But center supporters say renting space in the school would be expensive and nearly impossible, given that classes and programs will take place there day and night.

Besides, existing facilities don't have enough space for large functions, said Connie Davis, a member of the center committee and the chamber's executive director.

"At the chamber we get calls all the time from people looking for places to have a wedding or a dance," she said. "For (events) with over 100 people, we had no place to recommend."

Although they strongly believe in a need for the center, the campaign's organizers will be satisfied however the vote turns out, Roark said.

"If the vote is no, then the voters have spoken and we say, "Thank you.' "

FIGURING TAXES

If approved, the Palm Harbor Community Center would impose a new tax of 0.25 mill for 10 years. A mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of assessed, taxable property value. To determine how much the tax would cost you, take the assessed value of your house and subtract the $25,000 homestead exemption, if you qualify. Then divide that number by 1,000 and multiply by 0.25.

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