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Funny money does some serious good
By BILL COATS
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 7, 2000
LUTZ -- This is the time every spring when you see the first signs of Lutz's annual guv'na competition. But nowadays, the signs are evident year round.
At Nye Park, you can see teenagers filling a former concession stand that has been converted into a teen center with more than $5,500 in guv'na money.
At the Lutz Volunteer Fire Department, you can see a gleaming new pumper that arrived in January. The fire department received more than $9,100 in guv'na proceeds in the past three years and used part of the money toward a $15,000 down payment on the fire truck.
At Oscar Cooler Park, a pond has been dredged for a nature park with $5,400 in guv'na money.
And unless plans go awry, Lutz will celebrate July Fourth with a rebuilt replica of its historic train depot, which has received $5,400 from the guv'na race.
All this from a lighthearted contest that was invented 10 years ago partly to help rent portable toilets for Independence Day.
"In the early years, they struggled to make any money," said Auralee Buckingham, perennial chairwoman of the July Fourth celebration, at which each new guv'na is named. "A lot of people really didn't know what it was about. Then it began getting some attention, and now all the business owners understand when the candidates go to them and ask them for help.
"It's really snowballed, and that's good."
"We got $5,115 this past time, which is twice what we got from them in the past," said Jerry Goins, president of the Lutz Volunteer Fire Association.
Through the early 1990s, the race averaged less than $2,000 annually. Then, in 1997, pediatrician Earl Smith entered the race. Smith was nominated by the fire department when he was absent from a board meeting there. But he plunged into the competition and gathered a record $4,258.80.
"I just wanted to be sure I won," he said. "There wasn't any ulterior motive."
Ever since, the contest has been fueled by checkbooks rather than loose change.
A year later, both Guv'na Sandy Ruberg and her closest runner-up, Charlie Reese, beat Smith's record. The four-person field raised $13,955.
Last year, records fell again. Guv'na Danny Neeley hauled in $7,302.25, and the competition's total rose to $17,050.
The growing treasure had its side effects.
The Lutz-Land O'Lakes Woman's Club, which sponsors the Independence Day celebration and invented guv'na, split deeply in 1998 over how much of the money should go to projects in Land O'Lakes. Before making a final decision, the club voted to quit sponsoring guv'na. The Lutz Civic Association quickly picked it up.
Civic leaders also worried whether the wealthy Ruberg would set such a money standard that it would deter middle-income candidates. Yet four such candidates entered the following year, organizing the most intense race ever.
"I kind of look for this year to fall off," said Goins. "I don't see how people can keep doing it like they have. It used to be for fun. Now it's like you can't be in it if you can't raise a lot of money."
But Buckingham disagrees.
"We just had a meeting with (candidate) Larry Solomonson, trying to come up with wacky things to do," she said. "Each year, it gets to be more fun."
-- Bill Coats can be reached at 226-3469 or email@example.com.
Total funds raised each year
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