In times of tight government budgets, shouldn't the city of Zephyrhills look more closely at how it spends its money?
Since plans to build a brand new library fizzled along with the economy, I have been a strong proponent of leaving the Zephyrhills library in its current location on Eighth Street and using tax dollars to add onto it. It is simple: Using Penny for Pasco funds to construct an addition will allow the city staff, patrons and citizens to determine what they want in their library, design it to suit their needs and spend the funds on what will be a virtually brand new building.
Purchasing the bank building and making the required improvements (demolitions, remodeling, re-roofing, etc.) will cost upward of $1 million. With architectural fees thrown in, little money will remain for books, computers and furniture. Surely those are more important attributes for the citizens' funds to be spent on and space to be enjoyed by individuals and families.
There also is a basic truth. The building is not a landmark or even architecturally attractive and is 40 years old. We looked at the bank building several times since 2008 for a new city hall and for a library. It was rejected every time. The building is not suitable for city needs.
I also question the alliance between the city of Zephyrhills and the Chamber of Commerce to form a partnership to encourage economic development. While is an extremely worthwhile endeavor, some of the methods proposed, particularly the city's agreement to give the chamber at least $100,000 to get the "group" off the ground, are questionable. This effort appears to be moving quite quickly without, in my opinion, proper thought and consideration.
What, if anything, is the chamber's financial contribution? What are the qualifications of those within the chamber receiving funds? Was there a "request for proposals" (RFP) advertised? If not, are there proper safeguards in place to guarantee how the funds will be expended? Could another group do a better job?
The Economic Development Task Force final report includes a number of unclear, vague and very expensive objectives/goals. These goals are necessary, but there is no financial plan tied to them and no discussion of inter-local or utility agreements proposed.
Further, the city eliminates a planning position tied to economic development yet proposes paying the chamber to perform the same function at a higher cost. Privatization of services should save the city money, not cost it more. In short, this is a good start of a multi-year project but this is not a point to begin a marketing program.
A pending airport property project also is a concern. Several of these owners also are involved in the library-bank offering and the Chamber of Commerce economic development project. Last year, the city purchased just over 17 acres for $750,000. The owners also own 23 acres they wish to sell the city and have threatened a lawsuit if the city does not purchase the property as promised. However, the city issued a caveat that the property would be sold if approved by the Federal Aviation Authority. It wasn't. A compromise deal is being considered that would trade this acreage for property the city owns on North Eighth Street, near Hercules Park, with the balance to be paid from Penny for Pasco funds.
This arrangement would place the airport in debt to the tune of a couple hundred thousand dollars and use Penny for Pasco sales tax funds for airport use instead of general fund projects as intended.
If these three projects all go through, they will cost the city of Zephyrhills close to $2 million. Since these projects are perfectly legitimate considerations, the city should open up these projects as is customary under government spending requirements. Requests for proposals should be offered and advertised to all property owners if the city is buying property, and to professional groups who may be interested in providing economic development services.
Citizens expect totally open government and proper stewardship of public dollars. City Council priorities should be to the greater good of the public taxpayer. It sounds like a cliché, but it is true.
Steve Spina, a 30-year resident of Zephyrhills, is the former city manager.