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St. Pete Beach passing up holiday lights

ST. PETE BEACH — No, Ebenezer Scrooge does not live in St. Pete Beach.

But some residents could easily think so because the city's traditional holiday street light displays are missing this year, while most other beach towns are greeting the season with the festive twinkle and glow.

"I am so sad there are no decorations. I really would like to see a little holiday spirit," says Toni Burcham, who moved to the city several years ago. "Everybody else has decorations. It's not fair, it's just not right."

She said she did not realize that during budget deliberations last summer the city eliminated the $30,000 needed to rent holiday street lights.

"They have the nerve to say they can't afford to have decorations when they are spending over $300,000 for legal bills. With all the money the city's lawyer is making, how about him putting in some money for decorations?" she suggested.

A survey of other cities in south Pinellas County reveals that although most do have holiday street lights, some don't.

Indian Shores decided not to put up lights this year because officials weren't sure their project to install utility lines underground would be completed in time. The town is planning to erect a banner celebrating the season, however.

Tiny Belleair Shore doesn't have holiday street lights either — but that's because they don't have a street. Gulf Boulevard, which is on the gulffront town's eastern boundary, belongs to Belleair Beach, which decided to forego $7,000 in holiday lights this year in favor of much less expensive banners.

But all other beach cities put up holiday lights, despite similarly tight budgets.

Madeira Beach spent the most: $22,000.

Indian Rocks Beach spent the least for its holiday lighting — nothing. They own their own lights and didn't buy any new ones this year, according to City Manager Chuck Coward.

Treasure Island, a city of about 7,500 people, spent $16,000, while Redington Beach's 1,500 residents spent $10,900 for their lights.

Tuesday, under pressure from residents and the City Commission, St. Pete Beach City Manager Mike Bonfield said the city would consider paying for some holiday street decorations out of about $450,000 in extra revenues found in a recent audit.

It was too late to rent lights, so Steve Hallock, the city's public service director, ordered 90 holiday-themed flags and plans to hang them from light poles on Gulf Boulevard and Blind Pass Road.

It cost $1,800.

"It will be nice with flags," Bonfield said.

On a "brighter" note — city employees, who also saw normal pay increases canceled last summer, will get a holiday bonus this year: $250 for full-time employees and $125 for year-round, part-time employees.

St. Pete Beach passing up holiday lights 12/05/09 [Last modified: Friday, December 4, 2009 5:02pm]
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