Park fees still in place for group meetings
By Kyle LoJacono
LUTZ Many Lutz-area organizations and community leaders have worried new fees charged for use of Hillsborough County parks and buildings would derail Lutz’s traditional celebrations. However, those concerns may have been overstated, county park officials said last week.
“I’ve been talking with some people, including the department’s director Mark Thornton, and the Lutz Fourth of July parade will be able to go on without fees,” said John Brill, spokesman for the Hillsborough County Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department. “It is considered a community event and therefore there is no fee to use the park.”
There had been concern by many in the community that the Lutz Independence Day celebration in Bullard Park by the Lutz Train Depot would be canceled this summer, much like Christmas in the Park was cancelled last month because of the new fees. So concerned was Lutz Guv’na Suzin Carr that she wrote a letter to the Hillsborough County Commissioners.
“I spoke with Commissioner Ken Hagen and I am waiting for something in writing now,” Carr said last week. “He and Mark Thornton talked and they’ve assured me the parade can go one without the fees. I’m thrilled with that, but the people of Lutz need to understand we need their help to put on the event. The letter wasn’t meant to railroad the commissioners, but to get the people here to step up and volunteer at the event.”
Carr is calling for help at the event for two reasons. The first is the county has cut its special events crew that had helped with setup at community events.
“The county will provide things like the tables and chairs, but there is no more crew,” Brill said. “The setup will have to be done by the community putting on the event.”
The second reason is more to spread out the workload.
“The same people put together all the events each year, and some of them are getting up there in years,” Carr said. “Even if we don’t have fees, the event won’t go on if the community doesn’t pitch in and help. If people wait until the week before the Fourth of July to act, then we still won’t have the parade.”
The parade and celebration draws from both north Hillsborough and Land O’ Lakes. While the news of no fees from the county seems like good news for Lutz and Land O’ Lakes residents, it is still unclear if everything will go on as usual.
“We have to be sponsored by the county because we are using their equipment and land,” Carr said. “I have no problem with that because we are borrowing their equipment and they should get recognition for that, but I want to know what that means for everyone at the celebration. For example, will kids selling cotton candy have to give the county half of what they make because they are the sponsor?”
The issue of the park fees arose last November when the locks on the Lutz Civic Center doors were changed. Before then, several groups used the center for meetings, including Boy Scout Troop 12, the North Tampa-Lutz Cadet Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol and the Lutz-Land O’ Lakes Woman’s Club. To use the center, all nonprofit groups must pay $20 an hour, and $40 an hour for other groups.
“It still isn’t right that they are charging to use the Civic Center that was built by the people of Lutz,” Lutz resident Marilyn Wannamaker said. “I’m still not sure if the parade will go on, but even if it does we shouldn’t be charged to use that facility.”
Wannamaker is the president of the Woman’s Club, but emphasized she was speaking only as a concerned citizen of Lutz. The club has been meeting at the Land O’ Lakes Community Center in Pasco County since the locks were changed.
Hillsborough Parks and recreation offered to allow the Woman’s Club to use the center if they made the county its sponsor for all events. Wannamaker said the club is just starting to discuss that possibility, but has not made a decision.
The club helped organize Christmas in the Park until last year, when they opted out because of the new fees. Wannamaker said she thought the fees would be enforced for using the Civic Center, Bullard Park and the train depot, a total of $60 an hour, to put on the event.
“There was never going to be any fee for the Christmas celebration in Lutz,” Brill said. “We were ready to give what support we could, but there won’t be any fees for those kind of community events.”
When asked about other events, such as the Lake Park Arts and Craft Festival, which is the first weekend of December each year, Brill said those events require park rangers and therefore would have a fee. Cars entering the festival last year had to pay $2 to enter for the first time.
“We are still trying to work out all the little details of the new fees situation because it is all new to us too,” Brill said. “However, we were never contacted to offer support for the Lutz Christmas event.”
Wannamaker did not see it that way.
“We never had to call them before, but we don’t have keys to get into the Civic Center now,” she said. “The information on the department Web site was very clear that we would have to pay those fees. We don’t have that kind of money, so why would be bother calling them?”
Carr will not be satisfied until she has something in writing.
“I’d love to take them at their word, but I want something concrete that says no one will be charged,” she said. “It’s still confusing, so I want to avoid any potential conflict.”