CLEARWATER - The first extension to the Penny for Pinellas, known as Penny 2, isn't due to expire until 2010, but the wheels of government are already turning to extend the additional 1-percent sales tax for an additional ten years. The proposed Penny 3, as it is known, will run from 2010 to 2020, and is projected by Pinellas County to provide $138,855,000 to the City of Clearwater to fund future infrastructure projects.
City Manager Bill Horne and his department heads introduced the City Council to the Penny 3 timetable and recommended project list during their work session on Tuesday.
The Penny 3 project is driven by the Pinellas County government, who have established a deadline of August 1, 2006, for municipalities to provide a list of projects that would be funded and to approve a resolution in support of the 10-year extension of Penny for Pinellas.
Horne explained that on August 15th, the Board of County Commissioners is expected to approve the County's Penny 3 projects, setting the stage for a fall and winter marketing campaign by City and County public communications employees that in Horne's words will 'get the word out to the public". County Commissioners will give final approval of the ordinance authorizing the public referendum on January 31, 2007, and the Penny 3 referendum itself will be submitted to a public vote in the March 2007 general election.
Department heads had submitted projects totaling approximately $400-million according to Assistant City Manager Garry Brumback. The project list was prioritized and pared down to about $130-million of redevelopment and renovation initiatives, "not necessarily new stuff," said Brumback. Many projects on the list have additional funding sources, and would be only partially funded by Penny 3, Brumback said.
The Clearwater Police department asked for nearly $3-million, consisting of a hardened, secure equipment shelter and a homicide investigation vehicle. Clearwater Fire Rescue sought more than $13-million, consisting of the reconstruction of the Clearwater Beach, Lakeview and Countryside Fire Stations in their existing locations.
Library system projects included the expansion or replacement of the Countryside and East Branches, and the installation of self-checkout technology, totaling just under $14-million. The City's Parks and Recreation Department requested more than $22-million. It's projects included the renovation of Coachman Park, renovations and improvements to youth sports fields and neighborhood parks, the construction of a Countryside Family Aquatics Center and the expansion of recreation trails, including the completion of the Pinellas Trail through downtown.
Promised by a previous City Commission before the completion of the new Memorial Causeway Bridge, Penny 3 funding of a beach parking garage was proposed. With the $12.5-million requested, a 450-space garage could be built on the Municipal Marina property as part of a public/private partnership according to Brumback.
A new 54,000 square foot City Hall and 384-space parking garage made the wish list. The location of the proposed new facility has not yet been identified, and the $25-million Penny 3 contribution does not account for the proceeds from the possible sale of the current City Hall property according to Brumback. $6.25-million was also requested for a separate 300-space downtown parking garage.
The Economic Development department proposed a $25-million expansion of the Downtown Streetscape project. It would extend the effort currently underway on Cleveland Street to Osceola Avenue, Fort Harrison Avenue and Cleveland Street eastward to Highland Avenue.
But the Council balked at the project's price tag. Councilmember Bill Jonson said, "This is the biggest number on the whole list," and reported a shocked reaction from some of the citizens who saw it. Mayor Frank Hibbard agreed, saying, "It was the number in the whole list that bothered me the most." "When I think of twenty percent of the total Penny 3 going just to Downtown Streetscape I have a problem swallowing that as well," he said.
Alluding to the Council's recent decision to cut back the Skycrest traffic calming project because of financial concerns, he added, " I just don't think that a lot of our citizens are going to appreciate that much money when we tell them that we can't do a couple of medians here or there." There was a general consensus that Penny 3 funding for the Downtown Streetscape project should be reduced to around $10-million.
Hibbard also expressed concerned that "a few things are conspicuously missing," enumerating a Senior center, Traffic Calming projects and cultural endeavors that were not recommended for funding by Penny 3. Jonson agreed, and added storm water and water quality projects to Hibbards list.
Jonson made a strong appeal to add traffic calming projects to the Penny 3 list. "If you're looking at traffic calming, you're really affecting a neighborhood. Not everybody uses the rec centers. I really sense a great desire from the community to accelerate our traffic calming," he said.
The Council directed Horne to conduct a Penny 3 interactive work session with the public, settling on a date of June 28th at the Main Library. With public input fresh in their minds, the Council will vote on the Penny 3 project list during their July 20th meeting.
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