DUNEDIN — A proposed beautification project for the Dunedin Causeway would bring palms and lilies to a beach route some say has been neglected for years.
But according to city documents, it would also take a more than $100,000 bite out of Dunedin's capital budget during a time of continuing layoffs and a $3.5 million operating budget shortfall.
Flax lilies, perennial peanuts and purple lantanas would fill in three medians, two corners and a shopping-center entryway along the route to Honeymoon Island State Park, according to a plan designed by Dunedin parks superintendent Art Finn.
Other medians would be lined with sprinklers and topped with native plants. Two brick signs welcoming visitors to the causeway would flank the entrance at Bayshore Boulevard.
City Manager Rob DiSpirito told commissioners last week that the project would promote development in northern Dunedin and enhance the causeway, a beach-lined road used by a million visitors every year.
The funding, provided for by a shrinking Penny for Pinellas budget, could not be applied to stave off job cuts and has no effect on operating costs, DiSpirito said. The money is typically spent on stormwater projects, major street reconstructions and debt payments on long-term loans.
"We've had nothing but overwhelming support from the neighborhoods," DiSpirito said Tuesday. "Everybody that we've come in contact with has acknowledged we need to do some work there."
The commission approved the plan but it still requires permission from the county and state, which owns a section of the Bayshore roadway, Finn said in an interview. The city will then accept bids from landscaping companies. Finn predicted the work may be completed by fall.
The project would cost about $108,000, with recurring yearly costs of $14,000 set aside for watering, trash pickup and weed control. City crews would maintain the medians once or twice a month.
The state Department of Transportation would contribute about an eighth of the cost of the project and maintenance, with the rest coming from the city's budget, documents show. The county and state may allocate money for the project, Finn said.
Vice Mayor Julie Scales acknowledged the city faces financial problems — a 12 percent drop in property tax revenue, coupled with expected decreases in state money, shrank the city's 2009 operating budget by about $3.5 million. Fifteen employees were laid off last year, Scales said, adding that city officials anticipate further job cuts.
Still, she contended the project, an interest of hers for several years, would be an affordable way to enhance one of the city's beach gateways.
"Planting is a very cost-effective way of really sprucing up a street," Scales said. "When you consider what it's done for the look of the community, you get a lot of bang for the buck."
Finn mentioned a 1990 landscaping project in downtown Dunedin that he said revitalized the area and attracted new storefronts.
"I consider it seed money," he said. "We'll get better businesses up there."
Kathleen Malone, who on Tuesday watched for dolphins and egrets from the beach off St. Joseph Sound, said she would welcome improvements to the causeway regardless of cost.
"If it's going to help then go for it. We need all the promotion we can get," said Malone, 54, a Dunedin native. "It's pristine, it's natural — and let's keep it that way."
With bridges built in 1963, the 2.5-mile causeway was once sided by little more than dirt and weeds. Local homeowners, like members of the Dunedin Beach Civic Association, have petitioned the city for at least five years to improve upon the route's aesthetics, Finn said.
"It's making a statement about Dunedin and about a very beautiful asset, something we're very fortunate to have in our back yard," Scales said. "I think it's important that people be proud of their neighborhoods."
Drew Harwell can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4170.