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    Pinellas United Way signs on for merger


    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 25, 2001

    CLEARWATER -- Pinellas County's United Way board voted Thursday to merge with its Hillsborough counterpart by July 2002, creating a new organization called United Way of Tampa Bay.

    "I think it's going to be more efficient and effective in addressing the needs of our community," said attorney Carlton Ward, chairman of the Pinellas County United Way board.

    No change will be obvious immediately for most of the thousands of workers in the two counties who contribute through their paychecks each week, or for the counties' 142 social service agencies that receive United Way funds.

    The 2001 fundraising campaign already is under way and will not change. But next year's campaign will be combined in the two counties.

    A committee will start an immediate national search for a new executive director, who will take over two organizations that now raise about $27.9-million a year. The new leader must take on the challenging task of linking United Ways in counties that have been known to squabble in the past.

    The president of the Pinellas United Way, Barbara Pacheco, and the interim president of the Hillsborough United Way, Diana Baker, both said they do not intend to seek the job.

    "In order for it to be really effective, you need new leadership who's neither a Pinellas person or a Hillsborough person," Pacheco said.

    Officials said much work needs to be done to communicate the change, and the reasoning behind it, to people who donate to United Way. In particular, people need to be reassured their money will continue to help programs in their own communities, a central tenet of the United Way.

    Allocation panels throughout the bay area will help decide how money should be spent in different regions of the two counties, as they do now.

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