INDIAN ROCKS BEACH -- In a turnout that far exceeded expectations, Indian Rocks Beach residents gave city and county commissioners a piece of their minds in the city's semi-annual "town hall meeting" August 31.
Tapping into the vox populi of this Gulf side city, more interest was shown than is generally seen at other municipalities in the area.
And there was no single hot issue that spurred people to show up and talk. It was a collective community outpouring that brought more than 100 people to city hall for a two hour session that was delayed in starting because of the influx of people and the socializing that went on.
Once Mayor Bill Ockunzzi got proceedings underway, the leadoff subject was undergrounding, a long talked of plan the cost of which has now risen to about $73 million -- St. Pete Beach to Clearwater -- according to County Commissioner Karen Williams Seel.
There was a variety of views on the subject. The main drag, Gulf Boulevard, will be paid for with tax funds -- if it ever is done, and there was an urging from Victor Wood, an IRB resident, that all the talk end and some action take place.
There was a startling view from a resident who described himself as a long-term telephone company employee who said there was a big downside to undergrounding. "It can be very troublesome when you're doing repairs," he said. "It's no bargain," he continued, expressing a view at variance with the faddish notion that it is the only way to go.
Before long, the subject of taxes came up and while the people spoke with a variety of views on the topic, the county folks -- Commissioners Calvin Harris, Ronnie Duncan and Williams -- chipped in with the idea that they struggle with the problem too.
Indian Rocks Beach's theme on taxes, strongly articulated by Ockunzzi, has been that the beaches in Pinellas County are the main tourist attraction and that the city gets scant help from the county in beach maintenance, clean up, street sweeping and parking while many dollars pour into county coffers for what the city provides.
Ed Piniero, an IRB resident and highly active in city affairs, made the point that taxes are driving the "little guy" out. He urged that tax policy be changed, including the way the Tax Assessor's office works.
There were amusing sidelights. One resident couldn't talk enough. When he wasn't actually making a point or spinning an amusing anecdote, he had his hand in the air, begging for more time.
The urge to talk and ramble and tell funny stories came in a distinctive Boston accent, the place where they know everything and want to make sure everybody knows that.
The meeting pointed up the transitional difficulties now going on in Pinellas County, particularly in the beach areas.
There is a movement from mom and pop motels to condominium development. The county folks said that studies indicate that this does not result in a net economic loss.
But one woman pointed out that tourists and visitors do not want to lodge on the mainland, a long ride away. They want to be right on the beaches and the way things are going they might not be able to afford that.
The end result, she said, would be an eventual destruction of tourism at a time when this area is competing with other areas in Florida as well as the country and the world.
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