Lantana: Town seeks alternatives to closing sports complex

By Margie Plunkett

A dozen kids in sports uniforms fidgeted outside Lantana Town Hall on a night late in June, while many of the 118 residents crammed inside to voice fears that the town’s youth will likewise be left out because the town can’t afford to keep the Lantana Sports Complex open.

“Our children will be turned into second-class citizens without travel programs and access to the fields,” resident Helen Snider said.

Lantana Council’s budget meeting made clear the tough choices as revenues plunge again in the endless fallout from the housing market collapse. At least four town jobs will be cut, with warnings that more may come in a year when ad valorem taxes are expected to generate about $2.25 million compared to $7 million in 2005, Mayor David Stewart said.

The sports complex was discussed as a possible budget casualty, but it could still remain open: The Lantana Athletic Association and Town Manager Michael Bornstein plan to meet to discuss prospects, including that group’s taking over the 22-acre sports park, which features baseball, soccer and other facilities.

Some residents spoke hopefully at the meeting of helping the complex get closer to financial viability by seeking corporate sponsors and shedding costly limitations thanks to their new league. “Let us help,” Lantana Athletic Association President Brenda Northup offered, later adding that fewer restrictions by the new Dixie Youth league let the teams play when they don’t need light, saving at least one hefty cost.

“I don’t want to close the ballfield,” said council member Elizabeth Tennyson, but increasing taxes isn’t an option. “I know people who are hanging on by their
fingernails financially. We can’t burden our residents by raising taxes. I will
not drive a family out onto the streets.”

“There are many homes in foreclosure in Lantana,” council member Cindy Austino said. “I’m not in favor of raising the millage rate.”

Council says it’s down to the nitty gritty of providing only services that are essential for public safety. But that didn’t help police force job security: Lantana had already found budget cuts by making it possible for Police Chief Rick Lincoln to retire six months early, come autumn, and will replace him with Capt. Jeff Tyson. Meanwhile, Capt. Andy Rundle, one of the names that had surfaced as a possible replacement for Lincoln, volunteered to take early retirement in what Bornstein called a noble gesture.

Mayor Stewart recalled what now seems a distant past, when aptly named benefactor Generoso Pope, the late publisher of the National Enquirer, gave Lantana its legendary Christmas tree each year. He was quick to buy an ambulance when Lantana needed it and put a bang into July 4 celebration by picking up the fireworks tab. Wayne Akers, of car dealer fame, also contributed heavily to the municipality’s abundance, although he preferred to keep his giving quiet, Stewart said.

Both Pope and Akers are gone now and no one has emerged to replace them. The economic landscape is changed beyond recognition.

The town pays about $250,000 annually to operate and maintain the sports complex, and it needs to find about $120,000 to keep it open in the new budget year that begins Oct. 1, Stewart said. He and other council members encouraged residents to come up with ideas to keep it open.

“The town can’t fund it. We don’t have the money this year,” said council member Tom Deringer. “I’ve never seen it this bad. My dad grew up in the Great Depression and told me how bad things were. I never thought I’d see it in this lifetime.”

Mary Kate Leming contributed to this story.

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