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Tuesday vote could affect fire district taxes

(ran EO edition)

Property owners in the East Lake Tarpon Fire District take note: The outcome of Tuesday's vote on extending the Penny for Pinellas sales tax could affect your property taxes.

If Pinellas County voters approve the tax extension for another 10 years, the $1.5-million needed to build a new fire station is expected to come from the sales tax, paid by residents, tourists and other visitors throughout the county.

If the tax extension fails, however, cost of the fire station will be paid only by property taxes in the East Lake Tarpon Fire District.

County Administrator Fred Marquis made that clear Thursday after he spoke to the monthly breakfast meeting of East Lake 2000 at the Tarpon Woods Golf and Country Club in East Lake.

The East Lake Tarpon Fire Commission had been planning to finance the new station with property taxes but learned late last year that the county proposed paying for it with the penny sales tax.

Even then, the fire commissioners were reluctant to abandon their plan. They want to build a new station closer to the southern part of the fire district soon to reduce response time to that area. If penny funds are used, they thought it might be up to 10 years before the county would budget for the station.

The other two stations are in the northern part of the district.

Marquis said Thursday he has a different plan. If the penny extension is approved Tuesday, he said he will find $1.5-million in county funds and ask the County Commission to let construction proceed, before the new tax would take effect in 2000. The money could be paid back as revenue from the penny tax comes in.

Marquis said he has discussed his plan briefly with the East Lake Tarpon fire commissioners, but has held off on detailed talks until after Tuesday's vote.

The new station would be built on the northeast corner of East Lake Road and Woodlands Boulevard. The district already has stations at 3375 Tarpon Lake Blvd. and 3280 Keystone Road.

East Lake fire commissioners have been saying that once the new station opens, they may use the Tarpon Lake Boulevard station as administrative headquarters and perhaps station one fire truck there.

Marquis said Thursday, though, that when a new station is built the station on Tarpon Lake Boulevard will be closed. The East Lake Fire Commission and its budget are subject to control by the Pinellas County Commission.

Little League moves

ahead _ without tax

The East Lake Little League has new lights for a ball field, new scoreboards on two fields, a second batting cage and a new field maintenance tractor _ all without using any tax money.

"Even though voters rejected the recreation tax, our people have rallied around the East Lake Little League, in volunteer hours and in monetary support," said Ray Ventura, a spokesman for the league.

"People are out there hustling every week because they want it to work," Ventura said.

The biggest improvement for the Little League at the Upper Pinellas Youth Sports Complex north of Old Keystone Road was lighting the minor league baseball field at a cost of $28,000. Two other fields are lighted, two are not.

The Coca-Cola bottling plant in Tarpon Springs donated new scoreboards on the major and minor league fields, but the Little League spent $3,700 to erect them. The league spent $1,000 to set up a second enclosed batting cage.

"And we finally were able to purchase our dream: a field maintenance tractor we can use to manicure the infields," Ventura said. Coastal Equipment Systems in Odessa sold the league the tractor at a reduced price of $7,350.

Ventura said the new lights on the minor league field have doubled usage of the field by allowing practices and games at night. Previously, the minor teams had to share time with the majors.

The next field to be lighted is the junior-senior diamond, at a cost of $50,000 because it is a regulation-size field. That project is about two years down the road, Ventura said.

He said the money the league has spent on improvements has come from various activities and fund-raisers, such as sales of candy and of pictures to team members and from the league's annual golf tournament.

"Faced with the reality of no public money, this is what we have done," Ventura said.

Cubs will watch

6 o'clock news _ live

Cub Scout Pack 475 at the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in East Lake will get a firsthand look today at how television news works.

Members of the pack will visit the Channel 28 studios in Tampa for their 5 p.m. meeting.

How did they get an invitation to the TV station? Seems they have an "in" there. Their new cub master is Frank Fraboni of East Lake Woodlands, who is a morning newscaster on Channel 28.

The Cubs will get a tour of the studios, talk with people who report on weather and watch the 6 p.m. newscast live.

The pack is looking for new members. If interested, call Marlin Swikert at 785-3754.

_ Times staff writer Amy Walsh contributed to this report.

Do you have news? We'd like to hear about your clubs, schools, churches, businesses, neighborhoods and family. Call Donald Finley at 445-4229 or write him at the Times, 34342 U.S. 19 N, Palm Harbor, FL 34684. Or you may fax material to him at 445-4206.