Saturday, February 24, 2018
News Roundup

Amid angst, street light fee approved in Safety Harbor

SAFETY HARBOR — It may be unfair, but it was the best solution the city could come up with.

Most property owners will have to shell out $50.97 over the next year to cover the cost of public street lights.

The charge will appear on utility bills for people who live on roads with street lights that the city leases from Progress Energy. The fee will not be assessed on those who live on unlighted streets, those whose homeowners associations pay for public street lights, or those who live on private streets.

"You never get anything perfect, that's going to be perfectly fair," said Vice Mayor Joe Ayoub during the City Commission's final approval of the special assessment Monday night.

Some residents complained about what they see as a regressive tax on a public good — a flat cost disproportionate to people's differing financial circumstances. And the fee stays the same even though some roads have more street lights than others, they argued.

The city is imposing the special assessment to make up for a shortfall in the street light fund. At first, developers' fees fueled the fund. But the fund diminished over the years as construction slowed, and the city had to transfer money into it from other places. Faced with the inevitability of the fund zeroing out in 2013, the city began considering new revenue sources to pay for the poles leased from Progress Energy, which cost about $300,000 annually.

Initial discussions in the spring produced two possible options: implementing the new street light fee or hiking the property tax rate. But not enough commissioners supported a significant increase in the tax rate.

Just as commissioners argued unfairness in the street light fee Monday, they also pointed out unfairness in the alternative: that collecting money for street lights through property taxes would "double-charge" residents who were already paying for street lights through private means.

Saying they were open to re-evaluating the street light strategy in the next budget cycle, commissioners decided in two 3-2 votes to implement the fee at $50.97 for this fiscal year, which started Oct. 1. Commissioners Nina Bandoni and Nancy Besore continued their opposition to the fee.

• • •

Also at Monday night's meeting, the city terminated a development agreement for a potential office building at Cedar Street and McMullen-Booth Road. The one-year agreement inked in 2010 changed the property's zoning and land use for construction — except nothing was ever built.

The property owner hasn't been able to find a new developer.

After a six-month extension of the agreement earlier this year, neighbors pleaded with the city to crack down on the property, currently a storage facility that they say has evolved into a nuisance causing creek erosion.

Commissioners seemed peeved that the property owner, Paul McMullen, didn't attend the public hearing. They nixed the development agreement 4-1. Ayoub disagreed, worrying that dissolving the agreement would make it harder to market the property.

In other business, commissioners praised a proposed lease-to-own agreement for a former school site on Elm Street, a $250,000 deal to be paid over 50 years that will net the city more park space.

Also, changes to an ordinance regulating the location of group homes unanimously passed its final vote Monday night, a move likely to signal the end of a federal Justice Department investigation of the city. Federal officials viewed the city's restrictions on small residential care facilities as discriminatory toward people with disabilities.

Stephanie Wang can be reached at (727) 445-4155 or [email protected] To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Comments
Broward sheriff’s office launches internal investigations amid questions after Parkland massacre

Broward sheriff’s office launches internal investigations amid questions after Parkland massacre

The Broward County Sheriff’s Office said it is investigating allegations that multiple deputies failed to enter Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, after the shooting rampage there, adding to the mounting internal probes examin...
Updated: 6 minutes ago
Police: Registered sex offender who attacked Marriott hotel worker arrested

Police: Registered sex offender who attacked Marriott hotel worker arrested

TAMPA — A registered sex offender was arrested early Saturday morning by Tampa Police in connection with a hotel worker who was attacked earlier this week, the department said.John Eckhard, 41, was arrested about 1:30 a.m. on charges of aggravated ba...
Updated: 19 minutes ago
Orchestra explores spirit of Florida and the U.S. with ‘Triptych’ and ‘New World’ Symphony

Orchestra explores spirit of Florida and the U.S. with ‘Triptych’ and ‘New World’ Symphony

ST. PETERSBURG — One of the more important programs in the Florida Orchestra’s season combined Antonin Dvorak’s best known symphony with the debut of a major commission. Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, better known as the "New World," reaches to the roots o...
Updated: 30 minutes ago
Parents accused of torturing their 13 children face new charges

Parents accused of torturing their 13 children face new charges

The 13 Turpin siblings gained their freedom last month after one of them escaped through a window and called 911, ending years of imprisonment under parents accused of starving and chaining them to their beds in a putrid home not far from Los Angeles...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Activists call for tech companies to drop NRA’s digital TV channel

Activists call for tech companies to drop NRA’s digital TV channel

Activists are calling for Apple, Amazon, Google and other streaming companies to drop the National Rifle Association’s digital TV channel in the wake of the mass shooting at a Florida school last week, putting the companies in the delicate position o...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Pregnant mother Paige Howard wins women’s Gasparilla 15K

Pregnant mother Paige Howard wins women’s Gasparilla 15K

TAMPA — Initially, Tampa's Paige Howard was a little reticent about joining the pre-dawn throng at the starting line of Saturday's Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic 15K.On a morning when temperatures began in the mid-60s and climbed, Howard's ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Concerned about gun posts, dad turns in son’s phones. Cops find something else.

Concerned about gun posts, dad turns in son’s phones. Cops find something else.

After the Parkland school shooting that horrified the nation, a Miami father told police he was worried about his son’s disturbing posts with guns on Instagram and Snapchat.So he gave investigators his son’s smartphones — and they found child porn, c...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Northeast High alumnus Jon Mott wins 3rd Gasparilla 15K crown

Northeast High alumnus Jon Mott wins 3rd Gasparilla 15K crown

Roughly 20 minutes into Saturday morning's Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic 15K, reigning champ A.J. Richmond glanced over his left shoulder to former college teammate Jon Mott and flashed a quick hand signal."He was telling me that the two guys in...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Trump processes Fla. students’ grief as president, parent

Trump processes Fla. students’ grief as president, parent

WASHINGTON — Once again, it was the images of children that propelled President Donald Trump to act. Trump spent the first days after the Feb. 14 school shooting in Florida fixated on the grieving and anguished students and parents. While at his Flor...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Live blog: 2018 Gasparilla Distance Classic

Live blog: 2018 Gasparilla Distance Classic

The Tampa Bay Times will be there for every step of this year's Gasparilla Distance Classic. Whether you'll be walking, skipping, jogging or sprinting across the 5K, 8K, 15K or half-marathon finish, join us by using #gasparillarun.(function(d, s, id)...
Published: 02/24/18