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Long-term costs, benefits of Largo project are hazy

Re: City mulls pros, cons of developer's offer, story, July 13.

According to your article, the Largo city commissioners are weighing the pros and cons of the offer that Hyde Park Builders is making for the development of the old City Hall site. I strongly suggest they look at the risks, costs and benefits to the city.

The immediate financial costs to the city are obvious: $820,000 less than the appraised value of the land, plus $75,000 for sewer lines, plus $325,000 in building permits, plus $250,000 in street improvements equals $1.47-million. The long-term costs are harder to calculate.

Is there a market for upscale $200,000 homes in the downtown area? What is the proposed cost per square foot of the retail space? Is it in line with other properties in the area? Will businesses take the risk of locating across the street from old, dilapidated buildings? If you build it, will they come, or are current property owners and business operators going to be stuck with empty buildings that are a blight on the community?

The benefits are just as hard to calculate. The city staff estimates $163,000 in increased annual revenue. Over 10 years, this totals $1.63-million and reimburses the city for its initial investment. The long-term benefits are harder to calculate but still should be part of the equation. These include the Penny for Pinellas revenue generated by increased sales in the downtown area and the property tax revenue generated by an increase in property values in the surrounding area.

The downtown redevelopment area is the heart and soul of Largo. The Hyde Park project is like heart bypass surgery: The risks and benefits affect not only the heart but the entire body. Failure of this project could cost the community its life. Success could bring benefits that breathe new life into the heart and help to bring about a stronger city of Largo.

It's up to the patient (the commissioners and residents) to ask the questions, determine the qualifications of the surgeon, and weigh the risks and benefits before making such a life altering decision.

Barbara N. Peckham, Largo

Library starts out behind the eight ball

Statistics show that roughly 50 percent of Largo's library users are not city residents. Though some nonresidents are from other cities, most are from the surrounding unincorporated areas.

As to the $22-million construction cost of the proposed library, the city anticipates receiving a total of $200,000 from the Pinellas County Library Cooperative for that purpose.

The cost to operate the present library this year is about $2.5-million. Largo taxpayers pay approximately $1.9-million and unincorporated residents contribute approximately $600,000 through the county library cooperative. Some argue that since 50 percent of the library users are Largo residents, they should, in fairness, pay 50 percent of the cost. If that were the case, their cost would be reduced to $1.25-million.

So, in effect, one could argue that Largo taxpayers are subsidizing nonresidents to the tune of $650,000 for use of the library this year alone, without including the multimillion dollars to be spent for a new library. It is conservatively estimated that the new library will increase operating costs to Largo taxpayers by an additional $700,000 a year. County cooperative funding will not increase, so the disparity will worsen to $1.35-million per year when Largo taxpayers are forced to foot the entire bill for the increased costs.

Or, looked at another way, Largo taxpayers are paying an additional $650,000 in taxes this year to be part of the library cooperative. At that cost, you can be sure that my family will use the new 90,000-square-foot library to our north in Clearwater and the new joint St. Petersburg College/Seminole library to our south when they both soon open. Because of the age of Largo library's needs assessment study, the impact of both these projects is absent from discussion. I strongly suspect that both may relieve the present burdens on our library.

Additionally, the need for a branch library on the east side of our city will not disappear with the construction of a 93,000-square-foot building in Largo Central Park. This is especially true as the city continues to add voters and their families as they annex to the east. The idea of a branch library was summarily rejected early on because of fears of increased operating costs. That was long before we learned the current proposal will increase operating costs by at least $700,000 a year.

Costs will increase, but I believe that community needs will still be unmet. Largo's newly annexed taxpayers will have to drive the width of the county to get to the new library. This issue will ultimately need to be addressed.

Because of the reluctance of city government to revisit old assumptions upon which it bases present actions, the proposed new library will fail to meet residents' needs from the day its doors open, let alone 2010, no matter how much it costs.

Martin Shelby, Largo city commissioner

Who is watching out for the children?

Re: Police seek tips in kidnap attempt, story, July 20.

I am outraged that apparently the Tarpon Springs Police Department does not take child molesters seriously enough.

Why was the public not warned the day of the attempted abduction instead of waiting three weeks? The public can be a great help, since the police cannot be everywhere.

Do we really need to wait until this pervert actually pulls a child into his car? This person was brazen enough to follow the child into a restaurant where she sought safety. He will be successful soon.

What were those employees in Wendy's thinking when they did not call the police immediately?

Ten-year-old children should not be walking along busy roads alone, much less crossing U.S. 19. It seems like no one was watching out for this child.

Sharon McAuley, Tarpon Springs

EDITOR'S NOTE: Tarpon Springs police are seeking the public's help in finding the driver of a dark green Hummer with a purple, orange and pink confetti design on the doors. The driver is described as 30 to 40, thin and with light brown to blond hair. Call (727) 937-6151 if you have information.

Fence spoils our beautiful fountain

I am writing to you regarding the new chain that now surrounds the Largo Central Park fountain at the corner of Seminole Boulevard and East Bay Drive. This thick and unsightly chain completely encompasses the fountain. This chain also supports numerous signs that warn individuals not to play in the fountain.

Tampa has Channelside, St. Petersburg has BayWalk, what do we in Largo have? I think many would agree that the fountain in Largo Central Park is something that all the residents of Largo can identify with. The city logo even contains an image of the fountain as well as the clock suspended above it.

So why do we need to make it unsightly by surrounding it with thick metal chains? Warnings painted on the concrete surrounding the fountain already advise people not to play in the water. If people get hurt playing in the fountain, it would seem to be their own fault for disregarding the warnings.

But what of children too young or too irresponsible to heed the warning? Well, why aren't their parents supervising them in the first place?

I don't see the harm in playing in the fountain to begin with. It is hot in Florida after all, and what does it hurt for children to run through the streams of cool water on a hot summer day?

But this is beside the point. The fountain is pleasing to the eye, and to put this chain around it is to desecrate it. Why must the city take something beautiful and rope it off, not only physically from children, but also visually so as to make it a thing of controversy?

It also sends a message that the people of Largo have no right to enjoy their city, either visually or physically.

Let the people have their fountain, and if a few children wish to disregard the rules and play in the fountain, then so be it. They are only children, after all.

Michael L. van Gaalen, Largo

Your voice counts

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