Recap of Pinellas and Sarasota counties elections BY Roxanne Escobales03/14/07
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Yesterday’s election in Pinellas and Sarasota counties saw some victories for smart growth advocates and a big defeat for anti-tax groups.
First let’s look at the long-standing Penny for Pinellas sales tax. That adds one penny on top of the 6 and a half cents that goes to the state. 57 percent of the voters that turned out approved continuing the extra penny for another ten years. It’s expected to add almost 2 billion dollars to the county government’s coffers, and the 24 cities in Pinellas also benefit. Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch says he is “elated” about the voter support.
A local group called Cut Taxes Now, whose founder Dr David McKalip was not available for comment, calls the Penny revenues a “slush fund” that finance infrastructure projects the anti-tax group says should be included in the county’s regular budget. But Commissioner Welch says the penny adds the equivalent of 2-point-3 mills of property tax into the budget, relieving the pressure on property taxes.
ACT:A further 26 million from property taxes has gone toward social services, such as affordable housing, homeless programs and indigent medical care. Another 18 million toward adding a new wing onto Pinellas County’s severely overcrowded jail. And that brings us to the other major voice of criticism against the Penny -- Bishop Robert Lynch of the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg. He bashed the Penny tax in church newsletters and a full-page ad in the St Petersburg Times because he said not enough of the revenues went to social service programs. But Commissioner Welch says that’s not what the Penny is supposed to be used for. ACT:
Smart growth advocates got their day in the sun when two activists won seats on the St Pete Beach city commission. Harry Metz and Linda Chaney founded Citizens for Responsible Growth. That grassroots campaign fought and won the battle to put control of building regulations into the hands of city residents -- for the first time in Florida history voters would decide how tall buildings on the beach could be among other things.
In Sarasota County 71 percent of voters decided cities could not be trusted when it came to growth and gave the ultimate decision making power in these regards to the county.
Glen Compton is the director for the environmental group, Mana-Sota 88.
The county and the cities do have joint planning agreements that are supposed to address development of annexed land, but Compton says these are not strong enough on their own.
Compton says unchecked growth impacts quality of life by increasing transportation problems and taxes while resulting in a loss of open spaces.
And, over in Clearwater, Mayor Frank Hibbard revels in his winning efforts to expand transportation to the city’s flagging downtown. After years of trying, 52 percent of voters approved the city’s plans to add boatslips to the intracoastal waterfront by Coachman park and the Memorial Causeway bridge.
The plan will create space for around 130 boats, with Clearwater residents getting preference. And it goes hand in hand with other big development projects currently underway.
The city is also working on a promenade called the Beach Walk, which adds a 20-foot wide sidewalks along the beachfront for strollers, runners and rollerbladers, but which resulted in a loss of hundreds of city-owned parking spaces. Mayor Hibbard says the city is looking to build a parking garage somewhere on the beach to make up for the last spaces.