Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

Task force proposals picked through

With Pinellas County getting younger and more active, the real recreational need is for sports fields _ especially for soccer _ and bike and walking trails. Meanwhile, play is down on the county's 41 golf courses.

So, when it comes time to redevelop the old 260-acre Toytown landfill, it should become a multiuse facility with soccer fields, not a golf course.

That was the first recommendation of the Pinellas Assembly's recreation task force, one of seven task forces that spent much of the past year trying to help the county and 24 municipal governments work better together.

Thanks for your effort, the County Commission said Tuesday, but we don't want to rule out a golf course there just yet.

And during three hours of discussion, the commission crossed more items off the task forces' lists.

How about the county upping the amount of money spent on active recreation, the task force proposed.

Nope, the County Commission decided. That's a decision they'll tackle on their own.

What about changing the county reimbursement program for recreation fees?

Now, the county pays the difference between the resident and nonresident fees for people in unincorporated areas of the county who use city rec programs. Last year, the county spent $100,000 to subsidize the out-of-town fees for 1,600 people.

With many residents just now getting word about the county's reimbursement program, it's expected to cost $300,000 next year.

The task force suggested that only people who qualify for the school lunch program, about a third of county residents, be eligible.

The commission balked.

That would "change the direction we set," Commission Chair Susan Latvala said.

That was how it went Tuesday. The county signed off on a number of more benign recommendations made by three task force committees, but passed on some of the more controversial ones.

The mayors of Pinellas cities also will weigh which recommendations they can agree to. Those recommendations approved by both the mayors and County Commission will be implemented.

If Tuesday was any indication, though, finding substantial common ground may prove difficult.

The commission gave a thumbs up to four recreation task force recommendations:

+ To encourage joint use agreements to allow public access to school fields when they are not being used. The sticking point here, Warren said, is who should pay for liability insurance.

+ To have city and county staff survey the therapeutic recreation needs for people with special needs, such as aquatic therapy for quadriplegics or wheelchair tennis or basketball. "We're nowhere near meeting these needs," said the county's parks director, Elizabeth Warren.

+ To study sponsorship and naming rights opportunities at various fields.

+ To explore an open space/recreation requirement when a piece of land is redeveloped.

Parochial differences also arose within the fire/emergency medical services task force.

To really save money, assistant county administrator Gay Lancaster said, it would make sense to consolidate some of the county's 19 fire departments. By comparison, Hillsborough County has four.

While the county encouraged consolidation and collaboration, Lancaster said, the mayors "are more oriented to, "Let's keep things the way they are.' "

The County Commission approved the task force's support of voluntary regionalization efforts to improve service and cost efficiency. The key word is voluntary, Lancaster said.

And the commission rejected recommendations for a countywide assessment fee that would exempt only government and public education facilities, but not nonprofits, hospitals or some of the county's 52,000 mobile homes that pay no real estate taxes due to the homestead exemption. The commission also rejected a proposed alternative to adopt a uniform millage rate for the unincorporated dependent fire districts.

The commission will weigh in on the recommendations of the annexation and transportation task forces in March.

There is a competitive factor between the cities and the county that "just isn't healthy," Warren said. "I'm hoping all this work goes to good use."