Thursday, April 19, 2018
News Roundup

Belleair Beach residents face questions about finances, utility lines

BELLEAIR BEACH — With no competition for the three open seats on the City Council this year, voters will only have to pick "yes" or "no" on two ballot questions next week.

One of those questions is nonbinding, but important to the city's financial planning, while the other is considered a "housekeeping" change in how the city is administered.

The charter amendment, if approved, would eliminate the City Council's finance committee, which has not been used since the city switched to a city manager form of government. The ballot question also lists the city officials permitted to sign checks and puts the city treasurer under the direction of the city manager.

Residents also are being asked if they think it would be a good idea for the city to put utility lines underground.

Even if the voters respond positively, the city would not be required to follow through and actually do any planning or spend any money to bury power, telephone and cable lines.

"The construction estimate just from Progress Energy is $8.9 million and we are a city with a $2.2 million annual budget. There is not enough money there to save for a project like this," City Manager Nancy Gonzalez said.

The city also has an outstanding $2 million loan taken to build the city's new community center and City Hall.

That loan, secured with future Penny for Pinellas funds and backed by general fund revenues, won't be paid off for another 13 years.

Gonzalez said one possible way to finance burying utility lines might be through assessment of either all or the affected property owners, as suggested in the referendum.

That solution raises questions of fairness for residents along Belle Isle Avenue who have already paid to have utility lines buried on their street.

Over the next few years, the city will get almost $3 million from Pinellas County that could be used to either beautify Gulf Boulevard or help pay for burying utilities, Gonzalez said.

Meanwhile, Vice Mayor David Dumville, council member Leslie Notaro and Rob Baldwin, who is replacing retiring council member Mitch Krach, will begin new two-year terms this month.

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