New coalition wants $19-million in pennies
Residents have a list of projects they want funded if they vote to renew the Penny for Pinellas tax in March.
By NICOLE JOHNSON
Published August 6, 2006
PALM HARBOR - Note to the County Commission: If you're looking for ways to spend money generated by the proposed renewal of the Penny for Pinellas sales tax, Palm Harbor residents have some ideas.
Or rather, requests.
"Parks, recreation, leisure services, and Palm Harbor Main Street are all areas that we need funding for," said Jim Kleyman, vice chairman of the Palm Harbor Community Services Agency.
The agency is responsible for providing library and recreation services to the unincorporated area of Palm Harbor.
Currently, county officials are gearing up to determine how the next 10 years of revenues from the Penny for Pinellas, a 1-cent sales tax, could be spent. Voters will decide whether to renew the tax in March. Municipalities and public safety organizations have already begun submitting projects for consideration.
Kleyman's group, along with the East Lake library, Palm Harbor Chamber of Commerce and the Old Palm Harbor Main Street Association, has formed a coalition to lobby for projects in their areas that they say should receive Penny for Pinellas funds.
"The cities lobby to the county; they have that established line of communication," said Lesley Klein, president of the Old Palm Harbor Main Street Association and owner of Oak Trail Books. "We don't have a holistic way of lobbying, so we're coming together to do that; otherwise, our needs slip through the cracks."
Members of the Palm Harbor group spoke before the County Commission last week.
"Palm Harbor's library, parks and recreation, and the East Lake library, all need expansion and improvement of their present facilities," said Madeline Oliveri, a board member of the community services agency. "Funding from the Pinellas penny would really help these entities a lot."
And the needs are there, officials say. This spring, voters rejected two proposed property taxes to pay for an expanded Palm Harbor library and enhancements to parks. But that's not surprising, they say, adding that the impressive new libraries in Clearwater and Largo might not have been built if voters had to approve property tax increases to pay for them.
So now Palm Harbor and East Lake groups are looking to the Penny for Pinellas, which was approved in 1990. The money is earmarked for capital improvement projects throughout the county and its municipalities such as roads, utility improvements, parks and public safety. It is estimated that the penny generates about a billion dollars in revenue over its 10-year period.
In 1997, voters moved to renew the sales tax through 2010. The penny is set for another 10-year renewal vote in March 2007.
Palm Harbor has about 60,000 residents, and when the unincorporated area of East Lake is included, that number swells to about 100,000 people.
The new coalition's goal is to get about $19-million from the Penny earmarked for projects within Palm Harbor and East Lake over the next 10 years. The projects include more playing fields, a new community center and a new library in Palm Harbor.
The library, at 2330 Nebraska Ave., serves 25,000 visitors a month. To serve those numbers at state minimum standards, the library would need to expand from 26,000 to 39,000 square feet and add at least four more full-time staff members.
The Parks and Recreation Department serves about 5,000 people a month at its community center at 1500 16th St. More than 400,000 people use the outdoor sports facilities per year, but officials say more space is needed.
This past March, Palm Harbor and East Lake voters rejected quarter-mill tax increases that would have brought in an extra $900,000 for both the library and recreation services.
But community leaders say their growth shouldn't be dependent on a tax increase.
"With our size, we put more pennies into the county's coffer per household than any other municipalities," Kleyman said. "And I think based on that, we'd like to get more pennies out."
PENNIES FOR PALM HARBOR?
Palm Harbor and East Lake officials hope to persuade county commissioners to earmark up to $19-million of the Penny for Pinellas from 2010 to 2020 for North Pinellas projects. The requests include:
- $5-million to expand and renovate the Palm Harbor Library.
- $4.175-million to expand the East Lake Library.
- $2-million to expand the Palm Harbor Community Activity Center to include a new building, more parking and playground.
- $6-million for a proposed gymnasium.
- $1-million for athletic field lights at Putnam Park, Palm Field and Sunderman Complex.
- $3-million for a new 10-acre athletic complex.
- $250,000 for a shelter on the Pinellas Trail at Florida Avenue and Alt. U.S. 19.
- $1.5-million for a parking garage to serve the Pinellas Trail and Palm Harbor parks.
- $750,000 to improve Alt. U.S. 19 between Tampa and Klosterman roads.
- $500,000 for the Palm Harbor Historical Museum.