BELLEAIR BEACH — Thirty miles an hour may not seem like a high speed for residential streets, but officials here say it is and are about to drop the speed limit — and strictly enforce it.
Monday, the City Council passed an ordinance lowering the speed limit to 25 mph and agreed to spend about $1,000 to put up speed limit signs that will enable the Sheriff's Office to give out tickets.
Speeding on the city's interior streets has been an ongoing annoyance for many residents, particularly on Belle Isle Avenue and Bayshore Drive, two of the city's longer streets.
But when Tropical Storm Debby paid a visit in June, residents on some of the small streets on the southern end of the city began to complain, as well.
Cars trying to navigate flooded streets pushed water up into some homes.
The new ordinance attempts to address that problem, as well, by authorizing the city manager or mayor to close streets during a declared emergency.
The new speed limit will not go into effect until after the council gives its final approval, an action expected to be taken at its Sept. 5 meeting.
Enforcement will not begin until signs are installed informing drivers of the maximum speed allowed.
State law sets a residential speed limit of 30 mph unless posted differently by the municipality.
But the Sheriff's Office has been reluctant to enforce that limit because none of the city's streets were posted.
Now that will change.
Speeding up to nine miles over the limit will cost drivers $131. For each extra five miles, the cost of a speeding ticket rises and if anyone drives more than 30 miles over the posted limit, they are required to appear in court.
"As long as I have lived here, there have been habitual residents tearing down the street," said Mayor Kathy Mortensen. "Once we start nailing tickets, it will slow people down. And with people walking and biking, this is a really good thing to do."
John Pietrowski, the only council member to vote against the lower speed limit, disagreed.
"I don't think it will make that much of a difference in the way people drive," he said.
He also objected to the cost of the speed limit signs.
"The streets have to be posted for us to be able to enforce it," Community Services Director Allen Godfrey explained. "Now, there is no way for people to know what the speed limit is and it would be really hard to get the ticket to stick."
He said the city will have to install about 30 signs.
"My street is almost like a speed zone. It would be very helpful if we could have a sign and the ability for the sheriff's department to enforce the law if people go too fast," said resident Hugh Grey.