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Largo officials rank potential Penny for Pinellas projects

LARGO — With the vote to renew Penny for Pinellas on the horizon, city officials are starting to discuss which projects they would spend their portion of the tax revenue on.

The 1 percent countywide sales tax has raked in billions of dollars since it went into effect in 1990 that have gone toward funding dozens of projects, including Largo Central Park, the Highland Recreation Complex and the Largo Community Center. A preliminary wish list for the next funding cycle from 2020 to 2030 includes reconstruction of city buildings, road improvements and planning for better stormwater drainage.

The tax revenue is distributed to the county and cities based on population. The money can only be used for infrastructure improvements as well as land acquisition and improvements. The city projected it would receive about $105 million if the tax is approved next November, although the estimate is based on several variables that are still up in the air.

Commissioners discussed a list of 16 projects totaling more than $175 million at a recent workshop that were given scores using criteria for the city's capital improvement plan. Five projects were at the top of the list based on priority and because the total cost fit within the city's tax revenue projection.

The project with the highest score is for stormwater management. Pinellas County and several cities commissioned a study in 2012 to find ways to improve water quality and reduce flooding, said city engineer Jerald Woloszynski.

"Everything that falls from the sky is obviously picking up some sort of contamination along its way and eventually working its way out into our waterways," he said, pointing to the project's motto, "Only rain down the drain."

The results of the study led to a list of projects for five drainage basins: McKay Creek, Allen's Creek, Long Branch Creek, the Starkey Road basin and Clearwater-Largo Road. They include widening, increasing the volume and replacing pipes.

The work would take a take a chunk out of the money pot — about $17 million. The city collects stormwater fees, but the revenue is only high enough to cover maintenance and smaller projects, said City Manager Henry Schubert. The city is in the middle of a study to determine what the fee rates would be to cover all stormwater expenses. If the city goes that route, it frees up the $17 million to spend on other projects.

Another high priority item is $35 million worth of road improvements. The city is approaching a poor overall pavement rating, meaning that several roads are cracked so badly that water can seep in and, in some cases, start to destroy the foundation, Woloszynski said.

It's too early to determine which roads would be included in the project, he said. Officials would typically target the worst roads first, but Woloszynski said they also want to prevent roads on the cusp of critical damage to keep costs down.

"Sooner or later, you end up paying more for it if you neglect something in the long run," he said.

Reconstruction of three fire stations is also included in the top five list. Fire Station 39, off 134th Avenue near Rainbow Village, is in most need of repair, according to the list. The 5,300-square-foot station, built in 1979, doesn't have separated living quarters or enough storage.

Fire Station 38, near Ulmerton and Belcher roads, needs a new roof and air conditioning system as well as a building that meets national standards.

Fire Station 42 near the intersection of East Bay Drive and Belcher Road is also in need of an updated building with better access to fire vehicles and separation of living quarters.

The other two projects in the top priority list are police and fire rescue vehicle replacements, which have been funded by the tax every cycle since it was adopted.

City commissioners will choose which projects will be submitted in January to the county, which may include proposed projects beyond the top five.

Others on the list are construction of an aquatic center at Southwest Recreation Complex similar to the one at the Highland Recreation Complex; reconstruction of City Hall, the parks department building, the public works complex, and the Bayhead Complex and Action Park; replacement of the Largo Central Park playground; construction of a 10,000-square-foot storage warehouse; expansion of 142nd Avenue N/16th Avenue SE from Belcher Road to Seminole Boulevard; a 6.2-mile trail to connect the Pinellas Trail and the proposed Duke Energy Trail; new seating in the Cultural Center; and a more reliable fiber optic network for city buildings.

Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 893-8913 or kvarn@tampabay.com. Follow @kathrynvarn.

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