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Pinellas Park may discontinue recreation discount

When council members agreed last year to reduce recreation fees for youngsters who live outside the city, they said it was about the kids.

Now, as they consider terminating the program, the reasoning appears to be driven by politics.

"I'd like to discontinue this program," Pinellas Park council member Ed Taylor said during a recent workshop. "It's been ahead of its time. It's been underappreciated by folks in other points of power in the county. I have absolutely no interest in it."

Earlier this month, the county began a program to reimburse unincorporated residents for the amount they pay above the recreation rates charged to city dwellers. Now that that's in place, Taylor said, Pinellas Park should raise its rates since the nonresidents would get a rebate from the county anyway.

Nonresidents 16 and younger now pay $5 a year to use Pinellas Park's recreational facilities _ the same as city kids pay. If Pinellas Park raised the rate to $25, the county ostensibly would pay the $20 difference.

The net effect of Taylor's proposal is that Pinellas Park would eliminate its discount for young people and pass the cost onto the county.

During the pilot program, nonresident adults and seniors have continued to pay a premium to use the city's recreational facilities.

The county, Taylor said, should have used Pinellas Park as an example when dealing with other cities over the recreation issue.

They should say, "Gee, if little Pinellas Park can do that, why can't you?" Taylor said.

And annexation has a place in the mix, Taylor said. Raising the fees again will encourage folks to come into the city to get the lower costs and better benefits. Not only that, raising the costs will force county residents to realize how little they receive for their tax dollars.

"I don't think there's a lot of bang for the buck in the county," Taylor said. County residents get good law enforcement with the Sheriff's Office, but "after that, I think it falls fairly sharply off the table."

County Administrator Steve Spratt was meeting with commissioners and could not be reached for comment.

Liz Warren, the county's parks director, praised Pinellas Park for its decision to reduce the fees. But she could not comment on the political issues involved, such as annexation.

The one-year pilot plan has attracted 190 youths. The majority attend programs at Broderick Park in the southern part of the city. The other 65 use the Forbes Recreation Center on 94th Avenue N.

At $5 a head, Pinellas Park collected $950 from the nonresident youths instead of the $4,750 it would have seen under the regular charge.

"Basically, it cost us $3,800 to allow that," said Joel Garren, recreation director. The parents, he said, are "very appreciative, especially families with multiple children."

That was part of the idea when council members decided to try it _ to help keep kids out of trouble with organized activities.

But last week, as Garren reported to the council the success of the program, the members' tone had changed.

Taylor began the discussion by saying he had lost interest in the program because county officials were not grateful.

"I think the county needs to find other ways to go about it," Taylor said. "Their subsequent actions to this and other things we have done, again, I think have been underappreciated on their part. I choose not to offer forth any more olive branches."

Council member Rick Butler agreed it was a good program and hoped the registration did not hurt other programs, such as those offered by the Boys and Girls Club. But he agreed with Taylor about the county's ingratitude.

"I think it was a great pilot program," Butler said. "It's sad (that) we do a lot of innovative things that never get recognized from the county and continue to press on. . . . I'm not doing it for the blessings of anyone in the county, obviously. The surrounding kids have an impact on our community."

Council member Sandy Bradbury agreed the county was at fault for not doing a better job and not being nicer to Pinellas Park.

"We're sending an olive branch to the county residents to allow them to use our recreational facilities, but at the same time, this is telling the county you don't have to bother with anything. You don't have to help us when we're helping the county people," Bradbury said. "I have some mixed feelings about that."

Said Taylor: "The kids in the surrounding areas . . . that's who gets lost. We have shown leadership after leadership after leadership and it's ignored for whatever reasons they have. So be it."

Butler suggested the proposal to end the program be reconsidered after an April 7 meeting with the county, Kenneth City, Seminole and Largo to discuss annexation boundaries.

"It will probably be based a lot on how it goes April 7," Butler said.