SAFETY HARBOR — A plan to modernize the exterior of Rigsby Recreation Center has drawn criticism from some residents who feel the city's priorities are misplaced.
As much as $5,000 in taxpayer money will be used to update the 30-year-old facility with original artwork from a locally commissioned artist or team of artists.
The city's public art committee hasn't spent any of its designated Community Redevelopment Agency funds, Safety Harbor spokesman Brad Purdy said.
"The committee for fiscal year 2009-10 had a budget of $5,000," he said. "After some discussion, they came up with this idea to do a piece of public art at the Rigsby Center."
This summer, Safety Harbor learned that its taxable value dropped by $92.9 million. As a result, city staffers were forced to make some tough choices as they prepared the fiscal year 2010-11 budget.
Commissioners will vote on that budget Monday night, and set a new, higher tax rate.
Considering the state of the city's finances, Safety Harbor resident Pat Schneider wonders if the timing of the Rigsby facelift is appropriate.
"Honestly, I think art is very important," she said. "These are the things that in good times you look at and embrace because it makes the city as beautiful as it is.
"But is this something you want to do and raise the millage rate and not look at these kinds of expenditures? This is a classic example of a spending project that needs to be analyzed and scrutinized."
Similar commentaries spilled online. After Bay News 9 aired a story about the upgrades, eight viewers fired off comments.
One person wrote: My Safety Harbor home is devalued. … There seems to be no end to the frivolous projects.
Wrote another: Where is the logic in this equation?
Purdy said Safety Harbor has a record of fiscal conservatism and that most residents know the city wouldn't do anything to squander taxpayer dollars on "extravagant" things.
"The residents expect the city to be responsible for hundreds if not thousands of different things," he said. "Some residents want the fleet (of city vehicles) maintained. There are certainly residents out there who are passionate about the city promoting public art. Should we ignore group A to satisfy group B?
"We want to find a medium where we are supporting as many things as our residents expect of us that we can afford."
Rodney Thrash can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4167.