By Steve Lee
LUTZ — Since Hillsborough County began charging for the use of regional parks and its recreational buildings in October, spokesman John Brill said $241,012 has been collected.
That figure, released Jan. 7, is of no consequence to nonprofit groups and county residents who now must pay for something they previously had free access to.
Marilyn Wannamaker, a Lutz resident and president of the Lutz-Land O’ Lakes Woman’s Club, is appalled. Her group relocated to the Land O’ Lakes Community Center on US 41, where they are not charged, rather than pay to continue meeting at the Lutz Civic Center in Bullard Park by the Lutz Train Depot.
“It’s a shame,” Wannamaker said, noting that some other groups have pulled out of that building. “I don’t know what they’re going to do with a community building that sits empty.”
“Not all the groups have decided they want to do that,” Brill said of paying to use county buildings.
According to Brill, charging fees for parks and other facilities is part of a plan to generate more than $3 million in 2010 to avoid closings and layoffs. Though the fees came about at the same time as a $3.7 million expansion of Oscar Cooler Sports Complex off Lutz Lake Fern Road, Brill said that money already was allocated and had no effect on other sites.
“It’s not that we want to charge fees, but that’s what we were down to,” Brill said. “Lake Park, we were going to close two days a week and lose rangers, but the public said they wanted to do it.”
Art Heinrichs, president of BMX Raceway, said most people in that organization would rather pay a $2 entrance fee than not be able to get to the track off N. Dale Mabry Highway.
“It’s had some impact, but not a major one,” Heinrichs said. “It’s cut down our ridership by about 30 percent.”
Costs to enter county parks are $2 for a carload up to eight people. Annual passes are available at $50 per individual or $100 for a family. To meet at community centers, nonprofits are charged an hourly rate of $20 per hour, while other groups must pay $40.
Wannamaker voiced her displeasure at charging a bridge club of elderly county residents who no longer meet at the civic center.
“Those people are 80 years old,” she said. “They can’t afford $40 to play bridge. I think it’s just terrible what they’re doing to the young and the old.”
Brill pointed out that some groups, if they choose to do so, would be eligible for no fees at community centers if they agree to become co-sponsors with the county and display the county logo.
While Wannamaker’s club has been approved to meet in Land O’ Lakes through September, she said the Old Lutz Schoolhouse off US 41 could be an option in the near future. The club already stores items there and is planning for a flea market in March at that site, which in 1996 was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
“They won’t have to pay a fee,” said Lt. Col. William Westcott, commander of the North Tampa-Lutz Cadet Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol who also is on the Citizens of the Old Lutz Schoolhouse board.
The county owns the property and building, which was built in the 1920s, and leases it to the Old Lutz Schoolhouse. Donations to pay for maintenance and insurance keep it open for non-profit groups to meet at no charge, Westcott said.
At nearby Nye Park, off Sunset Lane, an after-school program that was free now costs $48 per week.
As for youth organizations, the Lutz Leaguerettes at Nye Park, as well as the Lutz Little League and Lutz Chiefs of the Pasco Police Athletic League (the latter two of which are based at the Oscar Cooler complex), the county does not charge fees in exchange for maintaining fields.