Wednesday, May 23, 2018
News Roundup

Idea of giving more money to private groups causes dispute among Dunedin commissioners

DUNEDIN — A staff recommendation that the city find another $700,000 in next year's budget to give to private organizations led to a squabble among city commissioners Thursday about political game-playing, favoritism and the use of reserves.

The discussion was sparked by a plan City Manager Rob DiSpirito unveiled during a morning workshop. He recommended that the city give $500,000 to the Dunedin Fine Art Center to supplement a state matching grant and $200,000 to the Dunedin Historical Museum for renovations.

That money would expand the facilities and programming, which DiSpirito said would bolster the city tax base by providing unique amenities to attract residents, merchants and tourists.

"By strategically investing in the future of these providers now," DiSpirito said, "we help them to become more financially sustainable over the long run, lowering the risk that the city of Dunedin will need to become involved."

Vice Mayor Ron Barnette and Commissioner Julie Scales called the donations a good investment in economic development.

However, DiSpirito did not convince Mayor Dave Eggers, who said the public should have a chance to weigh in, or Commissioner Dave Carson, who asked why the proposal wasn't brought up during summer budget talks.

With a city election six weeks away, Carson said the next commission should be allowed to debate the issue or the item should be sent to voter referendum. He and Eggers are running for re-election Nov. 6.

DiSpirito's recommendation is part of a larger initiative he says would help spur economic growth by enhancing "quality of life" amenities at a time when construction costs and loan interest rates are at historic lows.

In addition to the art and history buildings, DiSpirito wants to set aside another $100,000 to build classrooms inside the Blatchley House at Weaver Park.

DiSpirito also suggested pouring a percentage of code enforcement fines into an expanded "residential facade" program, aimed at improving distressed neighborhoods or properties.

Among DiSpirito's arguments for funding to the art center and museum:

•The city has partnered for 40 years with the art center, which has a rare chance at a $500,000, 2-to-1 state matching grant. To be eligible, the center has to raise $1 million by July. The center would use the funds to build the first floor of a new west wing.

•The art center is an "economic driver" that generates revenue for the city — $588,000 over the past two years alone. The center also offers discounts to city residents and employees.

•An 800-square-foot addition to the history museum would provide a Main Street entrance, increasing visibility 35 to 45 percent among passersby.

•Expansion would allow the museum to obtain national accreditation and incorporate environmentally friendly features, leading to lowered operating costs.

•Nearby cities have contributed large sums to arts and entertainment, including St. Petersburg and Safety Harbor, which recently absorbed its struggling historical museum into the city parks department.

DiSpirito said the two facilities, as well as the Blatchley House renovations, could be funded one of three ways: through savings on a bond refinancing; a 20-year bank note, which the city would pay off at a rate of $60,000 to $70,000 a year with Penny for Pinellas funds; or bundling the debt with a larger capital project.

None would impact operations or require raising taxes or cutting public services, he said. Capital funds can't be used for most operational expenses.

Eggers said he hesitated to spend the money when, like the city, other private groups are downsizing and might approach the city for help.

Carson ticked off a list of questions for DiSpirito. According to Carson, DiSpirito's earlier "behind the scenes" conversations about the proposal focused on loans rather than giving away city money. DiSpirito's current recommendation is "lacking in transparency," he said.

Carson said he's not in favor of borrowing money that will generate long-term debt.

"It's about needs versus wants. We are still very much in the need phase," he said.

DiSpirito said his staff would continue exploring funding options and come back before the commission within 30 days.

Keyonna Summers can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4153. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Comments
Lightning-Capitals: Grading Tampa Bay’s 4-0 loss in Game 7

Lightning-Capitals: Grading Tampa Bay’s 4-0 loss in Game 7

TAMPA — Forget Vegas.The Lightning have left the building.No more season. No more watch parties. No more anything.There is no way around it. Jon Cooper's team couldn't finish, not in Game 7 at home, not in the Eastern Conference final...
Updated: 9 minutes ago
Coast Guard suspends search for man missing from Tampa cruise

Coast Guard suspends search for man missing from Tampa cruise

The Coast Guard announced Wednesday night that it has suspended the search for a man who was reported to have gone overboard from a cruise ship that left Tampa.Officials aboard the Carnival Paradise told the Coast Guard on Tuesday morning that Brian ...
Updated: 10 minutes ago
Lightning’s season ends one win short of Stanley Cup final with 4-0 loss to Capitals

Lightning’s season ends one win short of Stanley Cup final with 4-0 loss to Capitals

TAMPA – The Lightning's dream season ended late Wednesday night with the final horn or, if you prefer, much earlier when Alex Ovechkin blasted the puck past Andrei Vasilevskiy just 62 seconds into the game.It ended one win shy of a trip to the ...
Updated: 11 minutes ago
Live blog: Lightning's season ends with 4-0 loss in Game 7

Live blog: Lightning's season ends with 4-0 loss in Game 7

  Follow our live coverage of the Eastern Conference final between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals. We'll have updates, analysis, photos, video and more on and off the ice from Times reporters, editors, sports columnists and photo j...
Updated: 26 minutes ago
Lightning-Capitals: Roger Mooney’s takeaways from the Lightning’s 4-0 loss in Game 7

Lightning-Capitals: Roger Mooney’s takeaways from the Lightning’s 4-0 loss in Game 7

* The Lightning picked the worst time to stop scoring goals. It's tough to win when you go more than six periods without getting at least one past the goalie, but that is what happened to the NHL's top-scoring team during the regular season.* Certain...
Updated: 29 minutes ago
State baseball: 60 wins and counting for Calvary Christian

State baseball: 60 wins and counting for Calvary Christian

FORT MYERS — Calvary Christian will play for its second straight Class 4A state championship Thursday. The Warriors defeated Jacksonville Trinity Christian 2-1 on Wednesday night at Hammond Stadium in a game delayed three hours due to weather. It is ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Wednesday’s Rays-Red Sox game

Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Wednesday’s Rays-Red Sox game

In a way, the timing of RHP Jake Faria's oblique injury seemed manageable in that RHP Nathan Eovaldi is close to coming off the disabled list and can step in. But on the other hand, the Rays finally could have four regular starters. Imagine that.Ther...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Three arrested for street racing after mother fatally struck pushing stroller on Bayshore Boulevard

Three arrested for street racing after mother fatally struck pushing stroller on Bayshore Boulevard

TAMPA — The two cars raced each other along Bayshore Boulevard just before noon, witnesses told police. One was a black 2018 Mustang. The other a gold Nissan. They sped side-by-side, trading the lead, police said, despite the traffic and pedestrians ...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Region baseball: Venice dispatches Mitchell

NEW PORT RICHEY — Walking by the football field and toward the parking lot after Wednesday's Class 7A region final at Ridgewood High, several Venice High players were caught by surprise as the irrigation system turned on.But while shaking off t...
Updated: 2 hours ago
‘C’mon Tampa, let’s go!’ Lightning fans gather for Game 7

‘C’mon Tampa, let’s go!’ Lightning fans gather for Game 7

TAMPA — Hours before Gate C opened Wednesday at Amalie Arena, six die-hard Tampa Bay Lightning fans gathered on the steps.Waiting.For Thomas Schooley, 40, of Seminole, it’s a pregame tradition with meaning."I’ve got to be the first one in," Schooley ...
Updated: 2 hours ago