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Pinellas helps out recreation programs

Local residents will get a return on fees they pay in form of $1.9-million for recreation programs in unincorporated areas.

By MAUREEN BYRNE AHERN
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 22, 2002


SEMINOLE -- Some parents here will be spending less time riding lawn mowers and more time coaching youth sports now that the county has agreed to help fund two athletic fields.

For years, parents have been begging the county to help them pay for athletic complexes in unincorporated Pinellas. Their wish was granted last week when the County Commission agreed to pay $1.9-million for recreation programs. Most of the money will come from a rate increase on the special property tax that only unincorporated residents pay.

Two of the recipients are the Seminole Junior Warhawks Athletic Association and the Seminole Youth Athletic Association, which rely on registration fees and donations to operate their programs. The organizations also rely on volunteers, mainly parents, to mow the fields at each of their complexes.

"I was jumping up and down in my kitchen," said Karen Luke, treasurer of SYAA, which oversees soccer, baseball and football programs at a complex on 90th Avenue N. About 1,500 children belong to the organization.

The county will pay for $180,000 worth of improvements at SYAA's 20-acre complex: $112,000 for new lights for a baseball field; $16,000 for a cover over the concession stand; $32,000 for a new restroom; and $20,000 for field maintainance.

SJWAA, which runs soccer, baseball and basketball programs, will receive $192,500 from the county to pay for new lights, a shelter, and maintenance for soccer and baseball fields at the 26-acre complex on 125th Street.

"We're very appreciative of Pinellas County government taking this step," said Steve Siesel, an SJWAA board member in charge of organization's soccer program. "This is all about services. We live in the county and it's getting younger every year."

Realizing this, county officials decided to end the county's long-held tradition of staying out of "active" recreation. "More younger people are moving here so we need to look at ways of providing services for them," said Liz Warren, the county's parks director.

Parents aren't the only ones happy about the new funding. Karen Luke's son Dean plays soccer and baseball for SYAA.

"I think it's pretty cool because we usually don't get any help and we finally got some," said Dean, 13, a seventh-grader at Seminole Middle School.

When the county agreed to fund recreation programs, applications poured in from all over Pinellas. Most of the funding will go to the north end of the county since it's home to most of the residents living in unincorporated areas. Other programs that will receive funding include East Lake Youth Sports Association and Palm Harbor Parks and Recreation.

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