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Clearwater’s six election referendum questions, explained

Voters will pick a new mayor and City Council members on March 17. But they’ll also have to decide these six issues on the ballot.
Clearwater voters will decide six referendum questions in this year's election. For complete coverage of Clearwater's city elections, check tampabay.com. [TARA MCCARTY  |  Tampa Bay Times]
Clearwater voters will decide six referendum questions in this year's election. For complete coverage of Clearwater's city elections, check tampabay.com. [TARA MCCARTY | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Feb. 12
Updated Feb. 14

CLEARWATER — There are six referendum questions on this year’s election ballot that city voters will get to decide.

Some will change policy, some are relatively uncontroversial housekeeping measures and one could significantly change a key city committee.

Related: 2020 CLEARWATER ELECTION VOTER'S GUIDE: Where the candidates for mayor, City Council stand on nine issues

Election day is March 17, But mail ballots have gone out and early voting starts March 7. For more information, check out the city’s election website.

For more coverage from the Tampa Bay Times of the 2020 Clearwater city elections, check out these stories:

Related: Here’s where the money in the Clearwater election is coming from
Related: Clearwater election could clinch — or kill — downtown amphitheater
Related: In Clearwater, a new campaign pitch: City Council needs diversity
Related: Where every Clearwater City Council candidate stands on Scientology

Here’s what Clearwater voters need to know about the referendum questions:

QUESTION 1: Donation or Sale for Less Than Market Value of Property for Workforce Housing

The Clearwater City Council has restrictions on how it can sell or donate city-owned land to affordable housing developers. If the city wants to donate or sell city land for this purpose for less than market value, it can only do so a half-acre at a time under current city law. This amendment would significantly widen that restriction to five acres, making it easier for broader swaths of city-owned land to be turned into housing for people who make less than 120 percent of the area median income. (In 2018, the median household income was $47,070, per the Census.)

The City Council already passed an ordinance allowing this change. But because the current half-acre limit is written into the City Charter, only a “yes” vote by a majority of voters has the power to ultimately ratify the change the council is pushing for.

QUESTION 2: Donation or Sale of Uneconomic Remainder to Adjacent Property Owner

This one is similar to the first question. Some of the city’s land simply isn’t that useful. It’s oddly shaped, hard to get to or too small to be effectively utilized. As the charter is currently written, land that falls under any of those categories has to be sold at market value by the city. Voting “yes” on this amendment allows the city to donate land like this or sell it at less than market value — as long as the city first holds a public hearing on the matter.

QUESTION 3: Repealing Section 2.01(D)(8) Relating to Leasing City Property to Clearwater Marine Aquarium

This is a cosmetic tweak to the City Charter. A provision in the charter which dealt with the potential lease of city land to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium expired in 2015. The provision had to do with bringing the aquarium downtown, but nothing ever came of the lease. A “yes” vote on this question would remove the outdated language about the lease from the charter.

QUESTION 4: Amendment to Conform with State Law

The City Charter is more lenient than state law when it says “no present or former council member shall hold any compensated appointive city office or employment until one year after the expiration of the term for which such council member was elected.” State law says legislators have to wait two years, not one year, to lobby or take up other paid positions in government.

State law already takes precedence over the charter here, so a “yes” vote on this question would mean approving what amounts to another cosmetic tweak to the charter, said City Clerk Rosemarie Call.

QUESTION 5: Administrative Amendment

The Clearwater city manager currently gives a report on the city’s finances every September — near at the end of the fiscal year, which runs October through September. A “yes” vote on this amendment would change the timing of that report from September to November — near the start of the fiscal year.

QUESTION 6: Appointment of Charter Review Advisory Committee

Every referendum question on the ballot originated as a recommendation from the Charter Review Advisory Committee, Call noted. The committee meets every five years to recommend potential tweaks to the charter. The tweaks then go to the City Council, which decides whether to put them before voters as referendum questions. (The City Council decided to put these six questions before voters, but they rejected a number of other changes to the charter, including a proposal that would have expanded the five-person City Council to seven seats.)

The committee decided this time around that every five years is too frequent a time period for the Charter Review board to meet. A “yes” vote on this question would change the charter to mandate the committee instead meet every eight years.

One caveat: the City Council could also call convene a Charter Review Advisory Committee at any time.

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