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Leaders question lack of shelter

Mobile home residents drove to Largo High School, only to discover that it was closed.

Others were awakened late at night by police and firefighters on bullhorns telling them to go to a shelter in another city.

Many residents ended up staying in their mobile homes to face Hurricane Jeanne on Sunday.

On Tuesday, city officials wondered why a shelter was not opened in Largo, where a third of the city's residents live in mobile homes.

"That's totally unrealistic," said Commissioner Charlie Harper during Tuesday's commission meeting.

The job of government is to protect its citizens, he said. "We flat let our citizens down on that one."

Commissioner Jean Halvorsen, who lives in a mobile home, agreed.

"You don't wake up a 75-, 80-year-old person and explain to them how to get to a school that's not in Largo," she said. "I was out there driving at 2:30 in the morning. There were people who were very scared and frightened."

Largo fire Chief E. Caroll Williams said that he did not know who made the final decision on which shelters to open, but he agreed that Largo High should be opened when a mandatory evacuation order is issued.

"We have a lot of questions that need to be answered," he said. "We need to put some process in place so we make those decisions sooner. I would rather be criticized for overreacting rather than underreacting."

Also on Tuesday, the city staff made a presentation on the changes Largo Golf Course has made in response to a consultant's report.

The golf course, which opened in 1967, is losing money. A $15,000 study by Golf Strategies and Paladin Golf Marketing found that the course needs a facelift and the number of rounds played to increase.

Staffers have attended a customer service training seminar. A computerized 24-hour phone system that allows golfers to call after hours to reserve a tee time will probably be installed in October. The system is estimated to increase revenue by $13,700.

A staff member will focus on selling golf rounds to hotels, mobile home parks and condominiums. A PGA Professional Apprentice will help run tournaments, give golf lessons and help market the facility.

The golf course may even get a new name. But renaming the course would cost about $9,500 for new tee sign plates and Pro Shop items.

The changes that are being implemented don't cost much money. Major changes, such as renovating the greens and upgrading the course, will be examined as part of a capital improvements plan to be developed by November.

"In many cases, it will make it a more friendly customer service environment," said Joan Byrne, recreation, parks and arts director.

"Everybody will be very, very proud of it," said Commissioner Harriet Crozier. "I think you're heading in the right direction."

Shannon Tan can be reached at shtansptimes.com or 445-4174.

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