SPB Update: Budget, Projects and Irma Cleanup

Despite Hurricane Irma, the St. Pete Beach City Commission managed to have three commission meetings in September. Although the September 12 meeting date had to be changed to September 19, a regularly scheduled commission meeting took place on September 26 and a special commission budget review meeting was held on September 5.

On September 19, the commission unanimously approved the $20 million budget for fiscal year 2018, which begins on October 1, 2017 and ends on September 30, 2018. The millage tax rate will remain at 3.15 for the 2018 fiscal year.

One of the biggest discussions was regarding the 26 percent increase in sewage fees to the city of St. Petersburg. City Manager Wayne Saunders noted that there have only been minor changes to the fees St. Pete Beach pays St. Petersburg since he has worked for the city, calling the large increase “directly related to the $30 million improvements St. Petersburg had to make,” adding, “It’s a big hit for us.”

Commissioner Ward Friszolowski recommended a possible review of the contract by a third party to “make sure we’ve been treated fairly,” noting that the contract states services in the contract must be adequately performed.

“We’re going to be sure we’re in good shape before we send them that first check,” said Saunders.

At the September 26 meeting, funding was unanimously approved for major city projects and expenses in the amount of $34.4 million, such as the completion of the $10.2 million Pass-A-Grille Way Phase II project between 1st and 19th avenues. The project is now in its final phase of drainage and paving improvements. An agreement was also approved with Pinellas County for the relocation of county-owned utilities and reclaimed water lines in conjunction with the project. Phase II is expected to be completed next year.

The commission approved a $538,900 engineering contract for a design that will place overhead electrical, cable and telephone lines underground along Gulf Boulevard between 75th Avenue and the Pinellas Bayway. Other projects that were approved include a $2.3 million renewal contract with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement services and a $64,670 contract for repairs to multiple city-owned seawalls.

In addition, a First Reading and Public Hearing to amend the Firefighters Pension and Retirement Plan was approved 5-0. According to Wayne Saunders, the plan was drastically reduced in past years, and the city would like to get “closer to minimum benefits” of similar municipalities. The net cost to the city would be $27,000 a year for the next three years when the contract is scheduled for renegotiation. The commission commended the firefighters for their service during Hurricane Irma.

Another First Reading and Public Hearing was approved, to provide supplemental appropriations to the Capital Improvement and Stormwater Funds, which will “move some pretty big dollars around, realigning dollars to where we need them for this project,” said Saunders.

Saunders also noted that the city rented three trucks and hired some temporary employees to pick up yard debris and transport it to Egan Park on Blind Pass Road, where it will be unloaded and then hauled off. Cleanup of the public areas of the beach also have begun, which includes tires, crab traps and trash. The Department of Environmental Protection has approved removal of seaweed from the beaches. The commission also noted that preparations made ahead of Hurricane Irma were beneficial.

“The city was very fortunate that the storm took a last-minute turn sparing us from what could have been a devastating storm surge. We did experience power outages and damage to trees and signs but very little damage to structures. The significant repair work to our sewer system over the past several months resulted in no sewer overflows during the storm. I’m very proud of how our entire team responded to this event,” noted Wayne Saunders via email.

Upcoming city commission meetings are scheduled for October 10 and October 24.

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