The time has come to speak frankly and fairly about whether Belleair Beach should have a new city hall.
Actually, the question divides itself into two issues:
1. Should there be a new city hall?
2. Should there be a referendum on the issue?
The answer to Number 1 is yes. Belleair Beach needs a new city hall. As to Number 2 of the question, more anon.
The faults with the present building are multiple and though proponents of fixing up the building make passionate arguments, the building has outlived its usefulness. Responsible surveys support this.
Consider some history -- the move for a new city hall began a couple of years ago. The progess in trying to bring it to fruition has been careful and prudent. This is not a project that can be described as a "shoot from the hip" idea.
The group basically headed up by Bert Cutler, a member of the City Council, and Dick Williams, whose yeoman work has been done very thoroughly and careful, proceeded in a deliberate fashion, crossing all T's and dotting all I's along the way.
Early on a financial study was done and a workup of how getting and repaying a $2 million loan would work out. Money has been put aside out of annual budgets as a savings to defray the cost of a new city hall.
Belleair Beach's budget for 2005, now under review, includes $110,000 earmarked for a new city hall, and there are $100,000 sums in capital planning going out eight years. Already on hand is some $400,000 in savings for a new building.
The city is still paying off the loan it took them to get out from under the debacle over the marina and the contention and threatened lawsuits by Elli Mills.
New city hall proponents see any loan payments for the project as substituting for the present payoff on the marina loan. So, as Cutler has said so many times, "there will be no new taxes to pay for a city hall."
In short, the planning over the past couple of years has been careful and very thoughtful both on the level of what a building would look like and how it would be paid for.
Williams is a man of high integrity and rectitude and would not have associated himself (let alone all the exhausting work that has been done) with a project that was not worthy.
Now, as to question 2 -- should there be a referendum?
The answer is no.
Very often the impulse -- especially in small towns -- is to have government by referendum. This is what occurs where a jurisidiction has the town meeting form of government.
However, the small municipalities around here, which are little more than homeowners association blessed by the Florida Legislature with the power to levy taxes, have governments along the line of "real" governments.
That is, there are officials elected from the populace and they take oaths and have fiduciary responsibilities etc. just like in large cities, states and national government.
To conduct the business of government by referendum is to make elected officials redundant. There can be a time -- when an extraordinary question or issue is on the table -- when there should be a referendum.
But not in this case.
Belleair Beach officials and citizens drafted into the work for a new city hall have acted responsibly with great care and prudence. They have done their jobs.
That work should be supported by citizen confidence.
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