SAFETY HARBOR — City commissioners said Monday they would support 3 a.m. alcohol sales on weekends.
But if data shows an increase in DUIs or the amount the city spends on Pinellas County sheriff's deputies, it'll be back to 2 a.m., the mayor and other officials said.
"We're so tight within our budget," Mayor Andy Steingold said during Monday night's commission meeting. "If we incur additional law enforcement costs, I would be very upset and ask that we address it and change it back to 2 because I don't think we're in a position to pay any additional costs to the sheriff's department."
The extra hour on Saturdays and Sundays is far from a done deal. The city attorney will have to draw up an ordinance, bring it back to the commission for a first reading on Oct. 4 and a second one on Oct. 18.
Still, the move represents a major about-face for this city of 17,800. Just a month ago, city spokesman Brad Purdy said Safety Harbor had no intention of extending alcohol sales from 2 to 3 a.m.
A lot has changed since then. After Pinellas County pushed bar hours to 3 a.m. in July, almost every city in mid and north Pinellas followed suit in August. Safety Harbor and Tarpon Springs were the only holdouts.
There are currently 40 establishments in Safety Harbor with licenses to sell alcohol.
A few e-mails from bar owners such as David Heim started to arrive in City Manager Matt Spoor's in-box. Heim's Extraordinair Lounge, which sits on the southwest corner of McMullen-Booth and Enterprise roads, has a Clearwater address but is zoned for Safety Harbor.
"The new laws allowing bars/lounges to serve until 3 a.m. will drastically affect my business when potential customers can go across the street and continue to be served," he wrote in an Aug. 20 message to Spoor. "Why do you want to punish/hurt your local businesses instead of help them succeed in this declining economy?"
Mike Kelly, who owns the 8th Avenue Pub, felt so strongly about the issue, he attended Monday's meeting.
He said he "thinks people are caught up (in the idea) that there's losers out at 2 a.m."
"Not everybody is an idiot that drives down the street and overdrinks. There are responsible people that come out late."
He said at the very least, he wanted the option to sell alcohol until 3 a.m. on weekends.
"That will help me stay in business," Kelly said.
It was the sluggish-economy argument that persuaded the City Commission to bend a little.
"The pressure's on us to kind of give in," Steingold said. "You've got Hillsborough. You've got Clearwater, Oldsmar and all the cities surrounding us."
Recently, the St. Petersburg Times reported that the St. Petersburg Police Department has incurred additional costs since the city moved last calls to 3 a.m.
In the new budget approved Monday, Safety Harbor's contract with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office is $1.2 million. That will pay for two full-time community police officers, one traffic officer and two patrol units roaming through the city at any given time. "If there's a pronounced increase in costs or accidents or whatever," Commissioner Nina Bandoni said, "then I would be the first to say that we need to stop this."
Rodney Thrash can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4167.