BELLEAIR BEACH -- The idea of a new city hall is tangled and confused with the chief proponents of the project unwilling to to talk about the most salient aspect of it -- money.
At Monday night's regular meeting of the City Council, Dick Williams, a member of the building steering committee proposed the expenditure of $9,000 for architect's work, supplanting the $24,000 outlay the council turned down last month.
This led into a discussion in which Councilmember Jeffrey Coulson succintly asked, "Do we have a bottom line cost on this?"
That began the dance of avoidance. This is the one subject that proponents do not want to talk about. Square footage, 11 feet off the ground, built to withstand 140 mile an hour winds, are all key aspects voiced by Councilmember Bert Cutler, chief promoter of a new city hall.
But nothing on the cost, even though the city hall committee has been meeting now for nigh onto three years. Committee meetings have nailed down very specific amenities of a city hall. All that was absent in Monday night's talk.
Have to find out what the citizenry wants, have to find out how big it should be etc.
Even Paul Marino, the city attorney, got in on the act. "Usually these things begin with the council setting a cap figure on cost."
But in this case the cart is before the horse. Cost figures have ranged from $1.5 million to upwards of $3 million. Nobody among the proponents wants to be definite.
Williams was asked at one point, by Coulson, "How much?"
"There is a fixed price contract," Williams said.
"How much," Coulson persisted.
"I don't recall," Williams said.
It was explained the architects' role will be in various stages.
What was the first phase cost? Bert Cutler's answer: "I can't remember."
Cutler said, "This is not like building a city hall in Belleair Bluffs. We have to build one that will withstand 140 mile an hour winds." Huh? Belleair Bluffs, a mile to the east would not have the same winds as Belleair Beach?
Also, never in the recorded history of Florida have anything approaching 140 mile an hour winds been experienced in this area.
Belleair Bluffs, a larger city than Belleair Beach, has a relatively new city hall that cost $1 million and has 9,000 square feet. Belleair Beach proponents of a city hall are talking about a 16,000 square foot city hall.
It seems that all the questions being asked Monday night should have been asked a couple of years ago. The building committee has pretty much operated on its own initiative and the council, in fact, has been little apprised, publicly, of what was going on.
In other action, in a move occasioned by recent events, that really had no actual impact on this area, Cutler had recommended in a Finance Committee meeting that the "hurricane fund" be increased by $300,000.
He said the funds would come from the sale of the city's sewer system. With possible pending litigation from Belleair Shore over a return of what that town claims is overpaid sewer fees, Belleair Shore might have dibs on some of that sewer sale money.
At the Finance Committee meeting, Stan Sofer a member of the committee, moved that $220,000 be transferred from the sewer money to the "hurricane fund" which then gave the latter fund a $400,000 balance.
Cutler revealed that nothing had been added to the "hurricane fund" in years and said that the only expenditure had been to replace some roof shingles some years ago.
So why a $400,000 fund?
One observer, citing the lack of hurricanes in this area, opined, "that hurricane fund sounds like a slush fund to me."
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