CLEARWATER - The City Council scrapped a proposal for a three-tier recreation fee structure during their may 19th meeting, eliminating a $71 surcharge to residents of unincorporated Pinellas County for use of City recreation facilities and programs. A two-tiered structure was approved, with City residents continuing to pay $5 per year for their recreation card, and non-residents, including those in unincorporated County, paying $90 annually.
The extra fee had been requested by Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Dunbar to establish "equity" between City residents, who pay an average tax burden of $165 per person per year for recreation, and unincorporated County residents, who pay only $8 per person per year in recreation taxes but account for nearly 1/3 of the usage of City facilities and programs.
Pinellas County objected to the proposed three-tier system. In a letter to City Manager Bill Horne dated May 19, Paul Cozzie, Pinellas County Director of Parks and Recreation, wrote "I do not believe the institution of a three-tier fee policy would provide the relief the City of Clearwater is seeking, and I would hope we could explore other options prior to implementing a new fee system".
Cozzie was present during Council discussion of the fee structure. Vice Mayor Jonson asked him about the "other options" referenced in his letter. Cozzie said, "I would love to have that conversation with Kevin (Dunbar), and talk about what we can do. We want to be your ally in this, we don't want to be in an adverse relationship". But Cozzie offered no specific options for consideration.
The relationship between Clearwater and Pinellas County became strained last year during planning for improvements to the City's Countryside Sports Complex. The City sought to establish a 3-way partnership with Safety Harbor and Pinellas County to fund the improvements; the County offered $700,000 for its share of the capital improvements, but refused to provide $75,000 annually to support the ongoing maintenance and operation of the facility.
That issue came up again during the fee discussion, Mayor Frank Hibbard said, "I think all of us would like to see a greater engagement with the county on some of these issues, including "The Plex" up in Countryside." Vice Mayor Jonson agreed, saying, "If we are to offer the participants up there resident rates, it seemed logical that the County should provide some ongoing maintenance share."
Before the new fee structure was approved, Mayor Hibbard said to Cozzie, "I think we're taking a step, keeping it a two-tier system, to be good partners so we would expect quid pro quo." Cozzie responded, "I agree with you."
After the Council meeting, Cozzie said, "It is our hope to work with the City of Clearwater. We recognize they have top-notch facilities and programs; those are things that Pinellas County is not in the business of providing. If there are opportunities to expand unincorporated residents access to recreation that would result in a win-win situation for both agencies, then we would want to pursue them."
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