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    Proposed rec center charges

    A proposal would have non-residents shell out an extra $25 per person annually to use the Seminole facility.

    By MAUREEN BYRNE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 8, 2000


    SEMINOLE -- Non-residents who sign up for an annual membership at the new and improved Seminole Recreation Center will be able to lift weights, swim laps and play a game of pool.

    But along with the nice amenities may come an increase in fees.

    If the City Council agrees with a staff recommendation, the cost for a membership card for non-residents will be $70 per person, up from $45. The plan also calls to discontinue a $100 family rate. There is no cost for membership for Seminole residents.

    Council members will vote on the plan Tuesday. If approved, the new fees will take effect Jan. 1.

    The increase wouldaffect the majority of the center's members. Between 60 percent and 70 percent of them live in unincorporated areas of the county.

    "If we're going to see any impact from non-residents, we'll see it right away," said Recreation Director Jim Sheets.

    Under the old plan, annual memberships were sold in January. Those who purchased cards after July 1 paid $30 for a seasonal pass.

    Under the new plan, annual memberships and 6-month passes, which wouldcost $40 per person, would begin at the time of purchase.

    Sheets said he decided it was time to raise fees after researching what other municipalities charge non-residents. Annual membership fees for non-residents in other Pinellas cities range from $25 to $100, he said. And most cities don't offer a family rate, he added.

    The city of Largo charges non-residents $25 for an annual membership card, but it also requires a 25 percent surcharge on most of its programs and classes, said Lara Khoury, a management analyst for the Largo Recreation and Parks Department.

    Sheets also said members will have much more available to them once a $6.1-million building and renovation project at the center is complete.

    "They're going to go from this old facility without a gym, without a pool to getting all these extra services for a slight increase," Sheets said.

    The addition will house a gym, racquetball courts, a weight room, locker rooms and offices. Work is scheduled to be done in January, Sheets said.

    That same month, a remodeling phase will begin in the existing building. When that project is complete in May, the facility will have an auditorium, kitchen, game room, classrooms, and aerobics, music, and arts and crafts studios.

    Outside of the center, members will be able to use athletic fields, two basketball courts, a playground, a Junior Olympic size pool and a smaller pool for children.

    "For the quality of what we're going to offer them, I think the fee is very fair," Sheets said.

    Fair or not, David Burns doesn't like the idea of having to pay more money for his 6-year-old son's membership card. "I'm not real happy about it going up," he said, "but if it's a good place for him to go to, it's well worth the money."

    Burns said the recreation center is the closest facility to his home, which is just blocks from Seminole city limits. "When you're in the unincorporated (areas), not a whole lot of things go your way," he said.

    Like Burns, Cindy Bries is a non-resident whose son uses the recreation center. She said she appreciates all the new features the facility will offer, but isn't sure any of her other five children will be able to use them.

    "There are many of us who will have to tell our children no," she said. "It just puts a damper on things when you have more than one child."

    Sheets said he realizes the increase will be a hardship for some families, especially ones who took advantage of the family pass. "At this time, there isn't anything in place to help that situation," he said.

    It's really an issue between the unincorporated residents and the County Commission, he said. If the county provided funding for the municipalities' recreation departments, that would offset the unincorporated residents' costs, he said.

    - Staff writer Maureen Byrne can be reached at 445-4163 or at byrne@sptimes.com.

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