Taxpayers Harpooned by Downtown Marina Project
On February 26, 2009, Carl Wagenfohr wrote in "Promise Broken" the financial debacle of the downtown marina project, and the broken promise of the City Council and Mayor to fund the marina without taxpayer funds. Currently, the city has committed or intends to spend nearly $13,000,000 of taxpayer funds to "buy down" operating costs. By paying cash, the city eliminates half the cost of operating the marina, the financing costs.
Only ten of the 126 slips are reserved. The cost to build these floating slips will exceed $100,000 each, or four times the cost of conventional fixed-pole marina slips.
In a March 8, 2007 Gazette article Mayor Hibbard claims that the marina will be "self-supportive and will help support other necessary activities in the city". This opinion was expressed before the city "discovered" $2 million in unbudgeted costs and fixed the problem by allocating another $2,000,000 in taxpayer funds from city reserves. Current slip revenue estimates are less than half the original projections while costs have increased at least 18 percent. Worse, the revised revenue estimates are not likely to be any more accurate than the original projections.
Even after the $8.25 million in Penny for Pinellas funds the city intends to literally sink into this project, we can expect the marina to have an operating deficit for years to come. Annual operating deficits approaching $400,000 are likely. Only the government would build a $13 million project, eliminate half the operating expenses by paying cash, and still operate at a significant annual deficit.
The City Council and Mayor can be forgiven for making an honest, if reckless, blunder. What is harder to forgive or accept is their stubborn insistence on saddling Clearwater taxpayers with millions of dollars in squandered Penny funds to be followed by ongoing annual deficits, all to heavily subsidize maybe 100 boat owners. Our children's children will still be paying for this costly error.
Wagenfohr notes that "The City of Clearwater is trying to make the best of a very bad situation". If this were correct, they would cancel the project, acknowledge their blunder, and cut the taxpayers' losses. Instead, they are determined to build this marina. Taxpayers and voters deserve better.
- Arnie Shal
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