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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

New fee idea rattles Pinellas County Commission



CLEARWATER -- As soon as public works director Pete Yauch said his presentation Tuesday would last five minutes, everyone knew it was going to take longer. 

Top county officials are floating the idea of adding an annual fee in unincorporated Pinellas to pay for stormwater projects and maintenance. With tax revenue falling -- and tougher federal pollution standards nearing -- the fee would help buffer the reductions and cover costs for stormwater runoff problems.

The county's done a lot already: paying a consultant $60,000 to update a 2007 study on the fee; hiring a law firm to draft the measure for $10,000; and advertising the first public hearing and vote on Feb. 22.

But a crucial piece is missing: the amount of the fee, which is supposed to be part of the updated study due in March -- after the first public hearing and initial vote is scheduled on the issue.

Tuesday's discussion rankled County Commissioners Neil Brickfield and Nancy Bostock, while Commissioners Norm Roche and Karen Seel also expressed discomfort over the timing and process. The debate revealed again the conservative shift on the commission, as well as criticism toward County Administrator Bob LaSala.

"I don't think this is a very transparent process," Brickfield said, adding he was being asked to vote on something he wouldn't see.

While the LaSala and Yauch said the timing was necessary to allow the county to keep its options open for next year's budget, Bostock noted the county could just delay collections another year. The law requires the board pass a resolution by March 1 to collect it in the next budget. Otherwise, they have to wait a year (which notably in this case, would require a vote in the 2012 election year).

"If there's such importance on this, why did we start so late in the process?" Bostock asked.

In the end, LaSala sternly said the decision was procedural "and I don't know if I have anything more to add."

The commission asked for an early presentation of the report Feb. 22, but made no promises of success with a majority uneasy about the fee, sight unseen.

[Last modified: Thursday, February 3, 2011 2:04pm]


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