BELLEAIR BEACH — "Extortion," "grossly unfair" and "outrageous" were just some of the words the City Council and its attorney blasted at Pinellas County's proposed interlocal agreement about future beach renourishment.
The council unanimously rejected the agreement Monday and decided to send a sharply worded letter to County Administrator Bob LaSala telling him just what they think of the county's effort to meet state requirements for beach renourishment funding.
Unless the city creates parallel parking on Gulf Boulevard, LaSalla has said he would recommend the county bill Belleair Beach $200,000 for the county's cost in renourishing the city's beach.
"This agreement does nothing for Belleair Beach," said council member David Dumville. "It puts us in a situation of being at the whim of the state and the county and being potentially liable for paying exorbitant funds whenever they decide to make changes (to qualifications for renourishment)."
In addition, the council was concerned over a clause in the agreement that states the city would be "fully responsible for their own acts of negligence, or their respective agents' acts of negligence when acting within the scope of their employment".
"How can they dare put this in the document?" asked City Manager Nancy Gonzalez.
Perhaps the biggest issue the city has with the proposed agreement is that is requires any city that fails to maintain its eligibility for state funds to fully reimburse the county for whatever money it spends to renourish that city's beach.
Last month, LaSalla said Belleair Beach needs to comply with the requirements just like all other beach communities.
He argued that the agreement would strengthen the county's competitive position in qualifying for state funds.
The proposed agreement, which it wants all beach communities to sign, calls for the beach towns to maintain the state's required number of beach access parking spaces, which now calls for one parking space for every 53 feet of beach access.
"So next year they could say we'd need 50 instead of 20 spaces and we'd be bound by that," said council member Wanda Schwerer. "It's extortion."
Council member Bob Baldwin pointed to a 2009 letter the city has on file from the county saying that Belleair Beach meets the current beach access parking requirements.
Belleair Beach has long fought with the county over whether it has enough parking spaces to meet the state's requirements.
At one point the county insisted the city needed to institute on-street parking in neighborhood streets with outlets to Gulf Boulevard in the southern portion of the city.
The council refused, arguing the streets were too narrow and had pictures taken showing that fire equipment would be unable to drive down streets where cars were parked.
LaSala continues to insist the city is 29 parking spaces short of meeting the state requirements.
Baldwin has said the parking plan would detract from the city's residential character.
"One of my concerns is how many other counties that are getting renourishment are making their cities sign documents like this? I think it is outrageous and a ploy by the county to put pressure on us," Mayor Kathy Mortensen said Monday. "I say no, we don't sign it."
City Attorney Paul Marino was the most heated in his reaction to the proposed agreement.
"There is no way I can concur with this as your city attorney. It is grossly unfair," he said, urging the council to tell LaSala and the county that their agreement is "inequitable" and "discriminatory."