Saturday, December 16, 2017
News Roundup

Sand and sewers key issues for Indian Rocks Beach

INDIAN ROCKS BEACH — Commissioners here will be confronted with two major, but very different, issues Tuesday — how to respond to residents upset over the city's "party beach" reputation, and whether to sell the city's sewer system to Pinellas County for nearly $2 million.

Indian Rocks Beach has 28 beach access points and about 300 public parking spaces, more than most other beach cities in the county.

But particularly on busy weekends and holidays, many beach visitors also park their vehicles on narrow neighborhood streets, sometimes blocking resident access to their homes.

Residents are upset, as well, over the trash left on the beach and how some beachgoers bother turtle nests.

"Indian Rocks Beach has acquired the dubious distinction of becoming Pinellas County's party beach," said resident Carol McLaughlin, one of a large group of residents who complained to commissioners last month.

Resident Diane Flagg reported finding "trash, cigarette butts, soiled baby diapers and discarded fishing lines and hooks" on the beach.

Larry King, another resident, described the issue as an "invasion of day-trippers" who add little value to the city's economy and drink alcohol on the beach.

"They come, they park, they drink and then they leave," King said.

Other residents said they saw beachgoers harassing egg-laying turtles and disturbing turtle nests.

City officials cannot prevent beachgoers from using the city's beach access points, City Manager Gregg Mims stressed.

To do so would violate state and federal law, since the city used grant funds to build the beach access points and receives periodic beach renourishment, funded by the state and federal governments.

Mims is considering recommending restricting parking along neighborhood streets on the northern portion of the city and hiring a part-time code enforcement officer who could ticket illegally parked cars.

He wants the part-time code enforcement officer to conduct a public relations campaign, as well, by talking with beachgoers and educating children about turtle nests.

He said nothing can be done about enforcement of the city's litter laws on the beach unless beachgoers are actually "caught in the act".

There is no need to put additional trash containers on the beach since all 28 beach access points have trash cans, nor does the city need more public parking, Mims said.

"Most people are pretty respectful. I don't believe we are in bad shape," Mims said. "I challenge anybody to compare our beach with other beaches. By far we are the cleanest."

He does want to increase the number of times beach trash cans are emptied, as well as the city's beach raking schedule, which now is done once a month, during periods of heavy beach use.

Mims plans to suggest these and other remedies to alleviate the beachgoer issues during the commission's regular meeting which starts at 7 p.m. Tuesday, following a special 5 p.m. meeting called to discuss the sewer system sale.

Selling the city sewer system could save residents money on their water-sewer bills and give the city a one-time windfall of cash, but would also see the loss of about $200,000 in excess revenue from utility fees.

Most of that revenue is placed in a reserve fund, now totaling about $3 million, dedicated to sewer system repairs. Those funds presumably could be transferred back to the general fund if the system were sold.

Pinellas County wants to buy the system from the city for about $1.9 million and would take over all future repairs, beginning with a $1.5 million five-year improvement program.

According to Kevin Becotte, who manages the county sewer system, residents would save an average of $12.90 on each water bill, since the county rates are lower than current city's sewer rates.

The city significantly increased sewer fees about five years ago to correct a nearly $1 million shortfall in the sewer and solid waste funds.

If the city does not sell its sewer system, residential and business customers will face another sewer rate increase in 2016, according to Mims.

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