INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - Mayor Bill Ockunzzi has made a formal request to the County Commission for financial help in maintaining beaches that are the magnet that draws tourists and visitors to the area.
The problem is a long-standing one. The beach communities in Pinellas County constitute about 3.5 percent of the county population and they pay more than 12 percent in the ad valorem taxes that go to the county.
In the meanwhile, Indian Rocks Beach and its sister cities along the coast bear the cost of maintenance and upkeep and other associated costs with the beaches that attract people from all over the world.
The county, obviously, is a huge beneficiary of this visitor and tourist economic impact, particularly in Penny for Pinellas income.
Ockunzzi sent his July 12 letter to Ken Welch, current chairman of the commission. Copied in were other members of the commission, Steve Spratt, the county administrator, and the Convention and Visitors Bureau.
He pointed out in his letter that "Indian Rocks Beach leads the way in providing for access to the beach for residents and visitors. We provide free parking on our 28 beach accesses (248 spaces) and neighborhood streets (probably another 200 spaces all told), 82 paid spaces (4 handicapped) in the county-owned beachfront park."
He continued, in the five-page letter, "we are proud to be situated at the epicenter of Pinellas County's tourism and recreation efforts but, we cannot afford the burden such responsibilities have placed upon our residents."
Nailing down the point, Ockunzzi wrote, "Pinellas County and the countywide agencies receive the "lion's share" of revenue generated from tourism; and we pay the vast majority of the bills."
It boils down to money - "In the short term, we need financial assistance to reduce the burden our residents pay in taxes to support a truly countywide asset. In the long term, we need tax relief," Ockunzzi wrote.
Recognizing the role the county has played in part, Ockunzzi wrote, "We are thankful for the limited amount of funding Pinellas County has provided for asset development (beach walkovers, etc.) but we cannot continue to pay for, essentially, the entire cost burden of maintaining the County's number one asset."
Specifically, Ockunzzi cited the following as among the immediate needs for his city -
Daily Beach Cleaning - $30,000, based on an average two-person crew, 365 days/year plus vehicle and equipment charges and tipping fees.
Street Sweeping -(Gulf Boulevard, SR 688 and beach accesses). $25,000, this will cover the costs of sweeping twice monthly.
Beach Showers - $15,000, to fund the potable water bill for the beach shower maintained at each of the city's beach accesses and routine maintenance for water conservation and hygiene. $500 per beach access per year.
Security Patrols - $10,000, the cost of extra deputies to patrol the beach and beach parking areas on the busiest user days (estimated to be 45 days per year).
Beach Raking - $12,000, the costs of raking the beach (seaward of the dunes) to clean up excessive seaweed, debris, flotsam, etc. as needed.
Beach Asset-related Planning and Development - $150,000, this funding will help provide for a joint planning effort by the city and county to evaluate and plan for facilities needed to meet the current and future needs of tourists and county residents. This is a longer-term idea.
Ockunzzi put a $132,000 price tag on his city's immediate needs for county help. "What a bargain for the county," he wrote. "Compare this to the billions of dollars of benefits reaped by the county from tourism and the real and intrinsic value associated with meeting the recreational needs of county residents. . . . Certainly, the county can find $132,000 to help fund the costs associated with providing services to its number one industry, tourism, and meeting a huge recreational need and benefit for all county residents."
Unmentioned by Ockunzzi, but of interest in contrast to what he is requesting, the county's fiscal year 2007 budget is in the neighborhood of $1.9 Billion, making Ockunzzi's request literally a drop in the bucket.
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