Sunday, May 20, 2018
News Roundup

Should Clearwater spend budget windfall on pools or employees?

CLEARWATER — For the first time in many years, Clearwater will have a little extra money in its pocket when it's time to craft a budget.

What to spend that money on? Should Clearwater keep its neighborhood pools and libraries open longer, as residents are requesting, or should it give city employees a raise? Is there money for both?

These are the questions that Clearwater leaders will take up beginning next week.

"We have a little cushion in the budget," said City Manager Bill Horne. He has proposed a $392 million budget that would keep Clearwater's tax rate the same as it has been for the past five years.

That tax rate is $5.15 for every $1,000 of assessed, taxable property value. For example, the owner of a home valued at $100,000 after exemptions would pay Clearwater $515 in property taxes.

"We're in a whole lot better shape fiscally than we have been in the last several years," said Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos. "The question is, can we start restoring some of the cuts that were made previously? We're taking a look at that."

It turns out that property values in Clearwater increased by a little over 6 percent in the last year. However, Horne's preliminary budget was drawn up a bit earlier, back when Pinellas County's property appraiser was predicting that Clearwater's values would increase by less than 6 percent.

That difference means the city would have an extra $390,000 to spend if it keeps the same tax rate, which it likely will.

Neighborhoods would like to see a share of that windfall, so Clearwater's elected officials are hearing about things like pool hours.

Clearwater maintains four outdoor pools at Clearwater Beach, Morningside, North Greenwood and Ross Norton. They've been open all summer but are about to shut with the start of the school year. They all close for the season at 5 p.m. Sunday.

Places like Morningside Pool near U.S. 19 have become increasingly popular because they're a place where neighborhood residents can come together as a community, Spencer Cook of the Morningside-Meadows Homeowners Association recently told the City Council.

"We constantly hear compliments about the quality of the facility itself — followed immediately by criticism and disbelief that unfortunately it's only open to the paying public for such a brief period of the year," Cook said.

Why not extend the city pools' hours to weekends through September? Cook noted that the cost of doing that has been pegged at less than $10,000 a year. "This is truly a drop in the bucket of a drop in the bucket of a drop in the bucket."

The city's Parks Department estimates it would cost $14,600 to keep the pools open through September, and that the city would earn $4,700 in revenue by doing so.

In addition to swimming pools, Clearwater Beach residents are lobbying the city to extend the operating hours of the Beach Library. They want to add morning hours to the small library, which is open in the afternoons.

The City Council will discuss the budget at a work session Monday and at a public meeting Thursday night. Council members will hold public hearings on the tax rate and budget at 6 p.m. on Sept. 4 and 18.

There's another group who sees a use for that extra money: Clearwater city employees. The proposed budget, as written, has no wage increase for them next year.

"Most of our people make between $25,000 and $30,000 a year," said Steve Sarnoff, president of the local Communications Workers of America, which represents nearly 900 Clearwater employees in departments like libraries, parks and solid waste.

Clearwater employees got 2.5 percent annual raises for the past three years. The CWA is negotiating the union's next contract with the city. The current contract expires Sept. 30, the end of this fiscal year.

The mayor noted that, after the CWA employees get a new contract, the city must negotiate with its police officers and firefighter/paramedics in the following years. That's one reason he's been careful about committing to expanding pool and library hours.

"You don't want to start it this year and take it away next year. That's not going to make anyone happy," Cretekos said. "There are a lot of moving parts. We're just trying to make sure that the puzzle pieces fit."

Contact Mike Brassfield at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Follow @MikeBrassfield.

Comments
Rays hang on to beat Angels 5-3 behind Robertson slam, get back to .500

Rays hang on to beat Angels 5-3 behind Robertson slam, get back to .500

ANAHEIM, Calif. – Playing .500 ball is obviously no goal, and the Rays certainly know that.But given where they came from, that terrible 1-8 start that oozed into 3-12 and 4-13, climbing back to the respectability of .500 would be an accomplish...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Rays journal: New pitching plan worked so well Romo starts again Sunday

Rays journal: New pitching plan worked so well Romo starts again Sunday

ANAHEIM, Calif. — The first part of the Rays' new and unusual pitching plan worked so well Saturday, as game "opener" RHP Sergio Romo struck out the first three Angels hitters, that the Rays will do it again on Sunday.That's right. Romo will st...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Lightning-Capitals: How Tampa Bay withstood Washington’s barrage

Lightning-Capitals: How Tampa Bay withstood Washington’s barrage

TAMPA — A two-goal lead was suddenly only one, and the Washington Capitals, having pulled their goalie, had a furious 96-second siege.Andrei Vasilevskiy made the last three of his 28 saves to preserve the Lightning's 3-2 victory Saturday in Gam...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Lightning-Capitals: How Tampa Bay’s early surges carried the day

Lightning-Capitals: How Tampa Bay’s early surges carried the day

TAMPA — Dan Girardi knew where the puck was heading. It was heading to Alex Ovechkin for a one-timer on net, so Girardi did the only thing he could do. He blocked it.With his rump."It hit me right in the cheek," said Girardi, the Lightning defe...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Lightning-Capitals: Grading Tampa Bay’s 3-2 victory in Game 5

Lightning-Capitals: Grading Tampa Bay’s 3-2 victory in Game 5

TAMPA — Faster than Justify down the stretch at the Preakness, quicker than Harry and Meghan walked down the aisle at Windsor Castle, the Lightning jumped on Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final. No runaway gallop. No funny hats. Just ho...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Lightning-Capitals: How Ryan Callahan and his linemates overwhelmed the Caps

Lightning-Capitals: How Ryan Callahan and his linemates overwhelmed the Caps

TAMPA — They're called grinders. Pluggers. Checkers.They're lunch-pail guys. Like 9-to-5ers. They get up every day and go to work. They punch in and punch out for no glory or credit. But the business would fall apart without them.They're the fo...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Justify wins foggy Preakness, keeps Triple Crown bid alive

Justify wins foggy Preakness, keeps Triple Crown bid alive

BALTIMORE — Justify rounded the final turn and hit the top of the stretch winded but with the lead. The roar from the crowd was delayed, hushed by the thick fog that enveloped the track. When Justify emerged from the haze in view of the grandstand, t...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Lightning-Capitals: Quick strike, but not the quickest ever

Lightning-Capitals: Quick strike, but not the quickest ever

TAMPA — Cedric Paquette needed only 19 seconds to put the Lightning on the scoreboard Saturday night, coming up with the second-fastest playoff goal in franchise history.The only goal faster? Tampa Bay's Adam Hall needed only 13 seconds to scor...
Updated: 5 hours ago

Rowdies tie in debut of new coach Neill Collins

St. PETERSBURG — Neill Collins, the former Rowdies defender who this week abruptly replaced Stuart Campbell as coach of the team, was a bit ambivalent about his debut, but he sure liked the way his club played in the second half of Saturda...
Updated: 5 hours ago
USF softball team’s season ends in Gainesville

USF softball team’s season ends in Gainesville

The USF softball team's season ended late Saturday in the Gainesville Regional with a 3-2 loss to Ohio State, its second NCAA Tournament loss to the Buckeyes in as many days.OSU (36-15) must defeat No. 2 overall national seed Florida (52-8) twice Sun...
Updated: 5 hours ago