Island Estates must defend itself | letter, May 14
City officials aren't the enemy
It is extremely disappointing to hear current leadership of the Island Estates Civic Association disparage and disrespect our Clearwater officials, as was done in the letter to the editor from Arnie Shal, who is also the current treasurer of the association.
His letter stated, "Clearwater has no footprint here." He further stated, "The strained relationship between Island Estates and Clearwater reflects the callous indifference of the existing City Council to Island Estates as a unique waterfront community. The lesson we have learned is that this City Council is willing to sacrifice our island community for tourism."
This is simply not true. We are a community within the city of Clearwater just like Morningside or Countryside. Island Estates receives the same services as any other community in the city.
The hotel issue on Island Estates was not brought forth nor was it promoted by any city official. The owner and prospective developer went to the city planning department to see if anything could be done to increase the number of potential rooms that could be built on the property. City officials responded by saying they would render assistance only if the members of the community and the Island Estates Civic Association board were supportive of such a project. The city was, in fact, sensitive to our community!
When Island Estates conducted a town hall meeting, I observed City Council member John Doran in attendance, obviously interested in the sentiments of the community on the hotel issue (as I'm sure the rest of the council members were). Erroneous information was disseminated by association leadership to residents prior to and during the meeting. There was no application presented to the city for a hotel on that property. Incorrect information was conveyed regarding the property's size, potential number of rooms and densities.
Association leadership should be ashamed of itself for misinforming and intimidating residents, creating a frenzy and fostering an attitude toward our city officials that can only be counterproductive to working relationships and our community's future.
Mr. Shal's statements are the kind of incendiary comments that get citizens riled up but, in the long run, ruin the credibility and effectiveness of the leaders in community groups like the Island Estates Civic Association.
As a former president of the association, I am concerned with these attitudes and tactics of current leadership. I found city staff and City Council members were most responsive and easy to work with. In 2005 and 2006, the city awarded our community $5,000 beautification grants. We requested and received from the city a turnaround in the Island Way median. The city approved a traffic light to reduce congestion and improve safety and we were awarded Neighborhood of the Quarter in 2006.
Association leadership may be better served by understanding how our city functions. This can be achieved by attending Clearwater's Citizen Academy, where they would review each department's operations and get to know key staff and elected officials. They may also want to attend the annual Clearwater Neighborhoods Conference and the Florida League of Cities conference to develop effective skills in communicating.
What they shouldn't do is throw stones when living in glass houses.
Frank Dame, Clearwater
Residents' budget chips fall story, April 26
Downtown tax fund must go
While I was out of town, I am told, the St. Petersburg Times carried a story which reported that I had said I was in favor of removing funding for Clearwater's homeless shelter, CHIP. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am very much in favor of CHIP.
My statement was at the city's meeting for citizen input on reducing the budget. Like the other speakers, I was not stating my personal opinion, only reporting the vote from my table. My group would not have voted to remove the funding for CHIP had we not been told on very good authority that the shelter could be funded from another source.
The budget meeting was advertised as the citizens' chance to have input on reducing the budget. It turned out to be a cynical public relations stunt by the city, devised to give us the false illusion that we could have some say on what was funded and what wasn't.
For example, downtown redevelopment, on which the city spends about $2-million a year, was not up for discussion. What if we had been able to choose between "downtown redevelopment" or libraries, recreation, fire service, etc.? Is there any question what the majority of citizens would choose?
In 2007, according to city records, $2,229,251 was generated by downtown's tax increment. This is real estate taxes, collected by both the city and county in downtown and reserved to be used only for downtown redevelopment. Without the tax increment financing fund, this money would be in the city and county's general fund to be used throughout the city and county. This has been going on since 1981. What has it accomplished?
If the millions of dollars in this downtown tax fund were returned to the general fund, we could keep our libraries, recreation centers, police service and most of the rest of it. There are some debts to the fund, but if the City Council would vote to do away with this fund now, the debt could be paid off in less than a year and the rest of the money used to save important services.
It's time for the citizens of Clearwater to do what we were not allowed to do at the so-called budget meeting: tell our city leaders, "We would rather fund safety, recreation and libraries than continue wasting money on trying to redevelop downtown. Do away with the downtown tax increment financing fund, now!"
Anne McKay Garris, Clearwater