LARGO — For nearly a decade, Largo United Soccer Club members have talked about the need for new lights at the Belcher Soccer Complex.
The lights are at least 27 years old, according to the city staff. Playing there at night is like "playing in a cave," said soccer club board member Lee Haas.
This summer, it was finally going to happen. The city had the money and planned to replace the lights during the club's off-season, from June to August.
Then a disagreement arose between rival companies about a little-known state law. Now, the 450 youth soccer players who use the fields may have to wait another year for new lights.
"I'm extremely disappointed," said Al Sousa, executive director of Largo United, which draws players from Largo and surrounding areas. "The lights are not really up to par by any stretch of the imagination."
Largo awarded the job of replacing the lights to Himes Electric Co. of Lutz, which offered a bid of $282,425.
M. Gay Constructors of Jacksonville, which submitted a $308,000 bid, cried foul. Himes doesn't have the proper certification to do a job that big, M. Gay said.
The two companies are far from strangers. They tussle regularly over sports lighting jobs in Florida. And if you ask Himes owner Tim Himes, M. Gay owner Michael Gay is a sore loser.
"They're not happy with us putting these cheap prices out on the street," said Himes. "We've gotten very aggressive in lean times … My thought is, the taxpayers win."
"There's no ill will," he said. "That's just business."
Neither Himes nor Largo public works officials had heard of the state law Gay said Himes had broken. But Gay was right, according to state regulators. Himes is an electric contractor. To do a job that big, Himes Electric needed to be certified to do engineering work.
Himes had planned to contract out the engineering work, as he says he has for 13 years on jobs like this.
The Florida Board of Professional Engineers agreed with Gay and sent a letter to Himes on May 22 barring the company from replacing the lights at the Belcher complex. Himes hired an engineer and got his company certified, an easy fix. But because the company hadn't been approved for engineering work when it bid for the job, it couldn't replace the lights for the soccer fields.
Rather than award the job to M. Gay, though, Largo threw out all the bids, a decision approved by the City Commission at Tuesday's meeting. The city will put the job back out for bid, and hopes to replace the lights this winter.
Any more delays, and the new lights will have to wait until next summer. The soccer club's off-season runs from June through August, but Sousa hopes to reschedule play this winter to allow the replacement job to start in December.
Himes and Gay both expect to vie for the job again.
"Like always, we'll come with the sharpest pencil," Himes said.
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Also last week, the City Commission approved, on first reading, two sets of fee increases:
• The Recreation, Parks and Arts Department raised fees for nonresident membership (from $55 per year to $59), its school aftercare program ($1,550 per year to $1,570) and a slew of other services. The fee hikes are estimated to bring in an additional $101,200 in fiscal 2013.
• Businesses based in Largo will have to pay 3 percent more next year for their annual business tax receipts. The tax receipt fees are based on the type of business and the size of its location. The owner of a 5,000-square-foot retail store, for example, will pay $8 more next year — $258 instead of $250. Largo received about $644,000 this year in business tax receipts. The staff estimates the fee change will generate an additional $19,000.
Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or [email protected] To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.