ZPAL expected to lose pool and possibly field
By Kyle LoJacono
Last spring, Mark LaMonte and the Zephyrhills Police Athletic League (ZPAL) stepped in and helped save Hercules Aquatic Center, but $20,000 of debt has changed that.
Pasco County had planned to close the pool, located at 38110 CR 54 in Zephyrhills, to help meet the budget shortfall. LaMonte, who had taken over as president of ZPAL earlier in the year, then asked county commissioner Jack Mariano and county Parks and Recreation Department director Rick Buckman if his organization could run the center.
LaMonte did not return requests for interviews for this story, but said in a previous interview last year, “Commissioner Mariano and Rick were extremely excited at the idea and helpful in getting this contract drawn up very quickly. We also appreciate commissioner Ted Schrader for lending his support to the contract as well as all the rest of the commissioners who were very encouraging in their comments at the meeting.”
By April, the pool was turned over to ZPAL and the city of Zephyrhills donated 250,000 gallons of water to fill it. The center reopened May 29 for people to cool off during the hot summer months. Also, the Zephyrhills High boys and girls swim teams used the facility for home meets during the fall. If the pool had closed, the Bulldogs would have had to travel to Saint Leo University.
It seemed to be a win-win for everyone involved. The county saved some money and those in east Pasco still had an affordable place to have some fun. Unfortunately, debt was piling up and the county was expected to void the deal with ZPAL Jan 25.
“We struggled with the decision to close the pool and believed Mr. LaMonte would be able to keep it going for the youth of Pasco County,” said Pasco Commissioner Pat Mulieri. “It really is too bad things had to work out like this.”
Mariano agreed with Mulieri’s sentiments, adding, “ZPAL had several chances to pay its debt and we, in the commission, knew it was time to move on.”
Dan Johnson, assistant county manager, said ZPAL owes the county more than $5,000 in electricity bills.
“The pool costs about $100,000 per year to operate, including lifeguards and other staff, but usually only took in about $35,000 in fees as I recall,” Johnson said.
The nonprofit organization also owes the city of Zephyrhills nearly $2,500 in water bills and $12,500 in other expenses to other debt holders.
The fate of the pool, which is on 16 acres of land, is in doubt, as the county still does not have the money to operate it. There is a reverter clause that could give the land back to the Pasco School District, which owned the land in the 1980s.
“If we are given the land, then we will look into what the best options are for it,” said Chris Williams, the districts director of planning. “We could operate it as a pool for the high school swim teams, but the savings there might not offset the operating costs. It’s still early in the process.”
Pasco School’s attorney Dennis Alfonso said at a school board meeting Jan. 18 that another option is to sell the land.
“It is a well positioned piece of property,” Alfonso said. He added that realtors expressed interest in the land several years ago.
ZPAL may also have its deal with the city of Zephyrhills voided.
Zephyrhills city attorney Joe Poblick sent ZPAL a letter demanding payment of all outstanding debt by Feb. 10 or risk losing exclusive rights to use Krusen Field for its youth football and cheerleading program. The letter also requested proof of insurance to operate the program.
ZPAL has had rights to use Krusen Field, located on Krusen Field Drive near 20th Street in Zephyrhills, since 2009. Before that, ZPAL and the Zephyrhills team in the Pasco Police Athletic League (PPAL) disputed over which group should use the location. The PPAL organization currently uses Sam Pasco Park, 39835 Chancey Road in Zephyrhills.
ZPAL records show 124 football players and 87 cheerleaders registered for the most recent ZPAL season. The organization had teams for players ages 4-14. The cost for the season was $95 for football players and cheerleaders 4-6 years old and $130 for those ages 7-14 for the first child per family, $105 for each additional child.
ZPAL also had an AAU baseball program for children ages 10-11 years old at Krusen Field during the fall after the football season, but the number of registered children was not available.
-Community Editor B.C. Manion contributed to this story.