Pinellas County is in jeopardy of losing at least $200,000 it is spending on beach renourishment if Belleair Beach does not put in enough public parking by the end of the year, according to county officials.
The current renourishment program pumping sand onto the public beaches as far south as St. Pete Beach will be completed in November.
At that time, the county will receive the final cost and apply for reimbursement or payment from the state and federal governments. Those governments have a formula for parking requirements that must be met to be eligible for those funds.
Most beach cities are in compliance, but Belleair Beach, in particular, is about 27 parking spaces short.
That city disputes that and refuses to meet the county's demand that public parking be put either on Gulf Boulevard or on the city's side streets.
To put an end to that argument and avoid potential future problems with that or other beach cities, the county wants all affected beach communities to sign an agreement that would require each city to maintain compliance with state or federal rules or pay for the renourishment themselves.
Pinellas County Administrator Bob LaSala told the cities at a July meeting that Belleair Beach has amassed a "penalty of about $200,000" because of insufficient public parking.
"We all need to commit to each other on this program to keep the state and federal funds flowing to the county," LaSala said as he asked each city to react to and eventually sign an interlocal agreement that would commit them to providing required public parking.
Last week, most of the beach communities sent emails to Andy Squires, the county's coastal manager, telling him what they thought about the county's proposed agreement.
Some had no issues with it, but many did.
Belleair Beach City Manager Nancy Gonzalez simply notified Squires that the City Council unanimously rejected the agreement. The city maintains it has enough parking and is unwilling to comply with the county's suggested changes.
The city prohibits parking on residential streets or on Gulf Boulevard.
North Redington Beach Mayor Bill Queen emailed that his commission would not sign the agreement as written.
"This draft is only unilaterally beneficial to Pinellas County," Indian Shores Administrator and police Chief E.D. Williams wrote to Squires, asking that the document be changed to be more equitable to the cities.
The cities, Indian Shores Mayor Jim Lawrence wrote in an email, have the "onus of compliance, reporting and financial responsibility."
Lawrence said beach cities may argue that they pay for maintenance and general cleanup of the beach, while the county "benefits from the revenues" from tourist taxes.
Some of those taxes help pay for beach renourishment, according to LaSala, who in July sharply criticized the stance taken by Belleair Beach.
"We have had our differences with the city of Belleair Beach," LaSala said. "They need to put money in the budget to pay for parking necessary for beach access. Hopefully, they will meet their obligations."
Redington Shores Attorney James Denhardt does not like the provision that gives only the county the ability to back out of the 10-year-long agreement.
Indian Rocks Beach City Manager Chuck Coward had concerns over some of the documentation that his city is required to provide to the county, but declined to react to the agreement's main thrust — obligating the town to pay for any renourishment it receives but may not be eligible for in the future.
"That is a political concern and the commission has not discussed it as yet," Coward said Tuesday. "It is our understanding that the city has always been fully qualified."
Three beach cities — Madeira Beach, Redington Beach and Belleair Shore — are not being asked to sign the agreement since their beaches are not renourished.
Belleair Shore and Redington Beach are residential communities with no public beach parking and Madeira Beach, because it lies on the southern tip of Sand Key, captures the sand that erodes from the beaches to the north.
Both Treasure Island and St. Pete Beach, which lie south of John's Pass and Blind Pass, respectively, do receive renourishment and officials there did not seem concerned about the agreement.
St. Pete Beach City Manager Mike Bonfield wrote a one-sentence email saying he had "no comment."
Treasure Island's manager, Reid Silverboard, only wanted to know more about documentation regarding that city's eligibility for cost sharing in future renourishing.
Clearwater city attorney Pam Akin also says she does not have a problem with the proposed agreement, but Mayor George Cretekos wants Squires to be at the Aug. 22 meeting of the Barrier Islands Government Council.
"I am sure there will be some discussion on this item," Cretekos wrote to Squires.