Penny 3 Revenue Forecast Cut, Projects to be Axed
By Carl Wagenfohr
CLEARWATER –Penny for Pinellas 3, the countywide 1-percent infrastructure sales tax that was extended for third decade by voters in 2007, is becoming another victim of the nationwide economic slowdown. That was the message delivered at a special City Council work session last Tuesday by Budget Director Tina Wilson.
Wilson estimated that the annual rate of growth in sales tax revenues over the life of Penny 3 would be only 1.028-percent, down from her original forecast of 2.8-percent. While that 1.778-percent annual difference doesn’t seem large, when it’s compounded over 10 years the city’s share of Penny 3 will fall $20-million short of the original $138-million plan.
Wilson then asked the Council to eliminate $20-million from the 2010-2020 approved project list, and provided some staff-recommended cuts to break the ice. Gone were Highland Avenue widening ($2.5-million), City-wide Wireless network ($3.125-million) and $2.3-million of the $3.5-million that had been earmarked for a Senior Center.
The most controversial of the staff-recommended cuts was the Countryside Family Aquatics Center. That project was to include a lap pool, diving boards, slides, spraying fountains, playgrounds, and “other creative state of the art aquatics fun activities.” Kevin Dunbar, Director of Parks and Recreation, explained that the $2.5-million earmarked for the project was not enough, and that the pool would add 6.5 FTE’s (full-time equivalent employees) to the city payroll. The annual pool operating cost, originally estimated at $325-thousand including employees, would be an unwelcome expense to the city’s shrinking General Fund.
Councilmember George Cretekos objected to eliminating the Countryside pool. “You go to the citizens and tell them ‘vote for the penny because this is what you’re going to get’. People are looking at a promise we made to them for a facility,” Cretekos argued, suggesting instead the elimination of some funds from an expanded streetscape project that, he observed, “hasn’t really improved the downtown.”
But Cretekos got no support from his colleagues, and the Countryside Family Aquatics Center will likely be eliminated.
The staff proposal included not only cuts, but two additions as well. The Council had recently agreed to fund part of the acquisition and renovation cost of the Royalty Theater from Penny for Pinellas rather than the General Fund, representing an additional $3.55-million on the project list. A further $3.5-million was added for the purchase of the St Petersburg Times Clearwater office. That property would be used to construct a new downtown fire station rather than renovate the existing facility in place.
The $12.5-million earmarked for renovation and expansion of the Countryside and East libraries was reduced to $10-million. Hibbard and Councilmember Paul Gibson agreed that the two facilities should be consolidated, allowing longer operating hours without adding employees and operating expense. The Woodgate Park property was discussed as a potential site for the new library.
$25-million had been allocated to the construction of a joint City/County office building and parking garage, but Assistant City Manager Rod Irwin explained that the county no longer had interest in the project. The funds were kept in the plan, but with an eye to building a new City Hall with a parking garage funded jointly with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA). The garage could become a multimodal transportation facility, allowing beachgoers to park downtown and take public transit to Clearwater Beach.
Unmentioned and untouched was the $12.5-million that had been reserved for a Clearwater Beach parking garage.
Any amendments to Clearwater’s Penny for Pinellas project list will require Council approval at a future public hearing; the date of that hearing has not been set.
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