Hoping to stave off any future talks of closing Clearwater Beach's library and recreation center, a group of longtime residents is pledging a major volunteer effort to supplement the city services.
The effort comes a week after the City Council backed off plans to close the two programs to save money. However, the city still plans to move the library, currently in a strip mall on Mandalay Avenue, into the recreation center on Bay Esplanade in October to save roughly $100,000 annually.
Longtime beach residents, including Bette Failor, Pat Power and Anne Garris, say they will seek formal recognition by the city for the group, which hopes to raise money for the combined center and spark better programming.
In addition, the group is creating a list of volunteers to supplement the city staff, a move that would also save money and lead to longer operating hours.
"It's not a matter of money," said Power, a real estate agent. "It's a matter of imagination and finding out what people want."
Council member Paul Gibson championed the news. He backed restoring funding for the beach programs, but only if the operation garnered volunteers.
Clearwater, like all local governments in Florida, is facing a rollback in property tax collections under a mandate from the state Legislature. Those collections could shrink more if voters in January authorize a Super Homestead exemption that would further cut into local government collections.
"As we move forward, we're going to find continued pressure on our budget and we simply need to learn how to do more with less," he said. "The answer is not a city employee for every task. The community has to step up and assist."
Right now, residents say, the recreation center doesn't offer much beyond bridge, clogging and yoga. Garris said if it updated the programs - she suggested senior-oriented and exercise programs - more people would visit it.
"With people volunteering to help, we're not limited in what we're capable of having there," Garris said. "It just depends on what the people are interested in."
Beach residents also say the city is missing out on fundraising opportunities like fish fries and local political rallies at the center - something it used to do.
"Since it's by the pool, we think this will also help develop one more thing to help tourism on the beach," said Failor, a merchandise designer. "A lot of people know about the library, but not the recreation center. But this is so simple. I think if the city will just see this through, we can be successful."
How to help
Beach residents interested in helping support the combined beach library/recreation center can register their interest by e-mailing email@example.com.