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West Bay project not likely to be cut

Commissioners say they would prefer to postpone other projects or borrow funds to pay for the improvements that are expected to be the catalyst for downtown redevelopment.

Commissioners were leery of slicing amenities from the West Bay Drive widening project Tuesday, with one official saying she would rather borrow to make up for a $1.4-million shortfall.

City officials budgeted $3.3-million for the project, which they called the catalyst for Largo's downtown redevelopment plan. But the lowest bid came in last month at nearly $4.8-million.

"I absolutely am not in favor of cutting back on this project," Commissioner Pat Burke said, adding a willingness "to borrow money to get this done."

The borrowed money could help pay for West Bay, or for other projects the city may have to put on hold to secure money for the road today, Burke said.

Commissioner Marty Shelby also said the city should look into borrowing money.

Commissioners also made it clear they will be tight-fisted with spending on other projects from now on. Earlier in the meeting, they rejected a $120,000 proposal to beautify medians along Seminole Boulevard.

"I have challenged myself for the next two meetings to come up with $1.4-million to get West Bay Drive done," Mayor Thomas Feaster said. "I'm willing to hold off some projects because this project is . . . important," he said later.

Construction is scheduled to be completed late this year, resulting in wider lanes, left-turn lanes and, among other accents, a 30-foot-wide median featuring nearly $800,000 in landscaping. Commissioners hope the road will be an attraction for patrons, as well as an incentive for new businesses to move to Largo's downtown district.

Largo staff, including City Manager Steven Stanton, presented commissioners with a possible scenario that would scale back amenities in the West Bay plan.

The scaled-back proposal would eliminate from the plan decorative towers that cost about $205,000; some brickwork for sidewalks and the roadway at a cost of $100,000; and at least $600,000 in upfront costs for light fixtures _ a total of about $905,000 in savings.

The city could also use a $600,000 federal grant and other reserve funds to make up the remaining shortfall in the project. Commissioners also talked about possibly lobbying the Legislature for funding.

But while some commissioners said they could go along with getting rid of some aspects of the cuts, none embraced them totally, preferring to try to pay for the entire project.

"I'm for going for it," Commissioner Jean Halvorsen said.

Stanton said he and other officials will continue to lobby the state Department of Transportation for additional funding for the project. West Bay is a state road, so the state has agreed to reimburse Largo about $2.5-million for the project in 2002. But local officials want the state to chip in more money as a result of the higher-than-projected cost.

State officials have said they are not prepared to commit more money to the project now but might reimburse Largo for additional funds in the future, Stanton said. He expects to better gauge where the state stands on the matter in the next two weeks.

But whether or not the state agrees to reimburse Largo more money in the future, Feaster said, the city will have to find the cash to pay for West Bay today.

Commissioners said they will discuss the matter again during the Feb. 15 meeting and hope to come to a decision about funding at that time.