CLEARWATER -- Clearwater's City Council delivered a 13.74 percent tax raise to its citizens as it passed, on first reading, the millage rate of 5.753 at its meeting last Thursday night.
The council also went on to adopt a general budget that is $90 shy of a flat $111.4 million, again on first reading.
Frank Hibbard the 38-year-old stripling who serves as mayor, made a puling and insipid statement that he hoped to lower the millage rate but that there was a "demand for high quality service."
Clearwater taxpayers might find the increase they will suffer hard going given the panoply of surrounding events. For example, in gas stations a few miles south of Clearwater City Hall prices went up 16 cents in 12 hours, ending up right at $3 for the lowest price fuel offered.
The council will rest on the fact that the millage rate was not increased, but it is not rates that define tax increases. It is what the citizenry pays bottom line and state law says that if you pay more this coming year than you did last year, that's a tax increase.
Councilmember Bill Jonson tried to restore to the Penny for Pinellas project list some of the $2 million cut out that was originally termed earmarked for a marina at the waterfront by Coachman Park.
Jonson wanted $1.1 million so designated (the other $900,000 is going for a promenade by the water's edge where vehicles used to zoom across the Intracoastal Waterway on the old bridge) to keep alive the idea of getting that improvement.
He was fought every inch of the way by his colleagues.
Never was the word marina, which got the whole gang in trouble last week, mentioned. There is almost a comical element to the Pavlovian reaction of politicians.
The council chamber was jammed with people September 1 many of them very chi-chi and excited about the prospects of seeing government in action.
Just about every last one of them flooded out at the end of the agenda item they were there for, leaving the chamber in a loud and braying herd that drowned out the boy mayor's cries of "there must be order, please ladies and gentlemen."
They were all happy because the council decided to give a green light to a fellow named Dave Clark who wants to develop the area on the very far east side of town, just north of Cove Cay.
He and his legal staff and supporters were seeking permission to establish the "Clearwater Cay Community Development District" which will allow them to borrow money by issuing bonds.
Their enterprise sounds almost like a government but it is private, the city has no liability and if Clark's development succeeds it will raise the greedy tax rolls of the city.
Clark, it appears, is an entrepreneur extraodinaire. Florida's corporations office shows him listed as a functionary in no less than 56 corporations, 42 of them with some variation of the name "DC"; viz., DC708G&S, LLC, etc. A fellow named David Schwartz is listed on most of them, with Schwartz listed alone on another six.
The other 14 corporations bear the common name of "Cristal Clear" followed by a specific -- e.g., Cristal Clear Charters, Cristal Clear Construction, Cristal Clear Aviation, etc.
These entities came into being over the past year or two and obviously provided a bonanza in filing fees to the always receptive fingers of the Division of Corporations. One was filed as recently as August 29, less than two weeks ago.
The poohbahs on the council were satisfied they were assenting to a good deal, but maybe significantly, the two lawyers on the council -- John Doran and Carlen Petersen, pronounced it a buyer beware situation.
The rest of the meeting was taken up for the most part with subjects that were already decided on and needed only final approval.
Curiously, the subject of the relocation of the Calvary Baptist Church Chapel was once again on the agenda, for the third or fourth, although the connection of that lovely building to the city is not clear.
The city does not own the land or the building and the only role it would play would be, presumably, to issue permits if enough money was raised -- $6 million is said to be needed -- for the building to be trundled to a new location.
Only the fact that the young mayor is a member of the church is a connection discerned. The city certainly couldn't use any tax funds for moving the building. That would be out of the question.
In any event, the council members came to the conclusion Thursday night that moving the beautiful building is a lost cause.
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