By Zack Peterson
For almost two years now, Edwina Kraemer and the members of the non profit GFWC Lutz-Land O’ Lakes Woman’s Club have been meeting at the Land O’Lakes Community Center in Pasco County to escape fees imposed by Hillsborough County.
Their old home, the Lutz Community Center, had become too expensive to frequent.
Other non profit organizations and hobby groups that use local recreational centers, such as gardeners, quilters and senior citizens, have been unable to meet at all.
For almost two years now, many non profit organizations have been faced with an agonizing choice: Pay the $20 hourly fee required to inhabit the building, or leave.
Many had to settle for the latter.
“We’re non profit organizations and we’re giving back to the community,” said Kraemer, president of the Lutz-Land O’ Lakes Woman’s Club. “Now, we’re being charged to use a center, as well as the acres of land outside it, that the Lutz people bought, built and then gave to Hillsborough County.”
But after a community meeting at the Lutz Community Center on June 14, “a level of comfort was achieved,” according to Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist.
The meeting, between various groups, Crist and Mark Thornton, director of the County’s Parks and Recreation Department, resulted in the county agreeing to “co-sponsor some groups.
According to Craig Jewseak, the head of external communications for Crist, co-sponsorship is akin to “a 100% discount from the county.”
Essentially, the county offers a fee waiver if the non profit organizations acknowledge the county’s involvement during their meetings, fundraisers, or any other affiliated events that make use of parks and recreational facilities.
“In return for the maintenance of building utilities, we would like to partner with you,” Thornton told organizations present at the meeting. “We would just need some recognition.”
Crist described it as “subtle advertising.”
Several group representatives seemed pleased with the idea, and appeared surprised that such a simple solution had eluded them for close to two years.
“Early on there was some miscommunication between our department and the non profit groups with the co-sponsorship,” Thornton explained. “There were also issues with their national office. And once they stopped coming to us and using the building, we stopped coming to them.”
Thornton said the communication started after Crist was elected last year: He “got everyone talking.”
“It was really a situation of ‘let’s just have a meeting, work out the details, and figure out where we are,’” Thornton said.
With a compromise reached, official paperwork must be drawn up.
“What’s important now is getting it on record so that the history is permanent,” Crist said.
To make the process official, Crist explained that a county record letter would be drawn up outlining everything agreed upon at the meeting. Then, the letter will be sent to the Parks And Recreation Director to confirm the agreements and proceed forward.
Not everyone is happy
“This meeting was display of true community involvement,” Crist said. “We came to a reasonable consensus, and came up with reputable solutions.”
“Almost everybody left satisfied.”
Those who didn’t were profit organizations, whose voice was best represented by Elaine Peverell, executive director at the Lutz Learning Center, a preschool and child care center.
Peverell has been in the Lutz area as an educator for 30 years, and relies heavily on field trips to reinforce the lessons taught to her students. She explained that at the end of field trips, she brings her students to parks to eat lunch and finish the day off. However, the rates for profit organizations are even higher to use these facilities, and Peverell said, “it’s too expensive.”
“It starts to really add up,” she explained. “We’re now starting to look at field trips in other counties.”
Peverell suggested making programs more cost effective.
“Either charge me in my tax bill or charge me for the park. But not both,” she said.
Thornton, however, said the county couldn’t subsidize for profit groups.
“Profit groups are for profit so it’s a higher fee and it does drive them to different places,” Thornton said. “But the fact is, we’re more interested in providing for community groups, not businesses.”
“We’re just going to have to work to find a solution for this as well,” Crist said.
But, for the non profit organizations such as the Woman’s Club, the outcome of the meeting was met with jubilation.
“I appreciate (Thornton) being so forthright,” Kraemer said. “He gave us the blessing for the building as well as the attached acreage. And, I must applaud Commissioner Crist for stepping up with his leadership.”
“Now this will bring back Market in the Park, Christmas Card Lane and other events.”
Kraemer’s next step is to confirm the idea of co-sponsorship with the organizations state president, Teddy Hulse, before moving forward with the Parks and Recreation Department.
Following the meeting, she gleefully discussed getting back into the building and the upcoming socials the organization would have, looking to get back in during the next couple weeks.
“It’s not been a short fight,” Kraemer said. “But it’s been a sweet victory.”