CLEARWATER - The Clearwater City Council will consider increasing recreation fees for non-residents during their May 19 meeting. Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Dunbar proposed a new 3-tiered fee structure during the May 2 work session, with City residents continuing to pay $5 for their annual Rec card, but residents of neighboring Cities facing a $10 increase to $90 annually.
The new third tier is for residents of unincorporated Pinellas County, with an annual fee of $161. Dunbar justified the higher fee, saying that unincorporated residents "for all intents and purposes really do not pay for recreation within their community". "The original concept of the non-resident fee was to provide some equity to our residents; we think this provides more equity to all the participants," he said. Dunbar pointed out that unincorporated residents could be reimbursed $156 of the proposed $161 rec card fee by the County's recreation grant program.
During the Council's May 16 work session, Councilmember John Doran compared the recreation tax burden of unincorporated County versus City of Clearwater residents. He pointed out that the County budget for recreation initiatives is $2 million per year, supporting a population of 250,000 to 280,000; "that comes out to $8 per person per year for their recreation burden," he said. "Residents of the City of Clearwater have a wonderful Parks and Recreation system, but for that we pay an approximate per capita of $165 per person, so there's a substantial difference."
Doran said that only 40% of the participants in Clearwater's structured recreation programs are City residents. "We're providing soccer fields, little league fields, basketball courts and other facilities that for all practical purposes are serving more non-residents than residents, and we're asking our taxpayers to pay for that," Although he claimed that the County should "step up to the plate and pay something more for it (recreation)", Doran did not support the 3-tiered system, saying a 2-tiered system might be more workable.
Councilmember Carlen Petersen had a different opinion, one derived in part from her participation in 2003 on the Pinellas Assembly Recreation Structures and Financing Task Force; one of the recommendations of that task force was for the County to increase the percentage of its Municipal Services Tax directed toward recreation.
She contrasted the cost of recreation to a resident of Dunedin, who pays a substantial tax burden for recreation but is not reimbursed the non-resident fee for use of Clearwater facilities, versus that of an unincorporated County resident, who can use the facilities of Clearwater, Dunedin, and Largo and be reimbursed for essentially all of the non-resident fees. "So in essence, they pay their $8 per year and can get access to three or four or more cities," Petersen said. A resident of Clearwater, she pointed out, pays a substantial amount of City tax for recreation but would not be reimbursed the non-resident fee for using Dunedin's facilities. "So we're coming out paying a lot more money for a lot less services," she said.
Councilmember Hoyt Hamilton was concerned that children might be unable to participate because of what they have to pay as a non-resident; "I don't want to hurt the kids," he said. He said he likes a 2-tiered system, but appreciates that need for a 3-tiered approach; his vote was undecided on Monday.
Vice Mayor Jonson had difficulty with the 3-tiered system, but for a different reason. He questioned the middle tier of the fee structure, wondering why a Clearwater taxpayer should subsidize a resident of a neighboring city more than a resident of the unincorporated County.
Mayor Frank Hibbard said, "I don't want our residents subsidizing anyone, be it the County residents, Dunedin, Safety Harbor or wherever in the county." He said "the costs are blind" regardless of the residence of the participant, but that reciprocal agreements with other cities might convince him to support a 3-tiered system; those agreements do not today exist.
Clearwater's recreation fee structure will be decided during the next City Council meeting, 6PM on May 19th at City Hall.
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