TREASURE ISLAND – A request for support from the state of Florida for maintenance of the 10-year-old bascule bridge and two other bridges on the Treasure Island Causeway has been turned down by state officials.
In an April 11 letter to Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Commissioner Ken Keys asked if the state could take over maintenance of the causeway and its bridges based on the fact that it is the principle evacuation route for the city.
Paul Steinman, District 7 Secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation, responded recently to Keys and said no.
“The Treasure Island Causeway bridge is not on the State Highway System (SHS) and the addition of this roadway to the SHS cannot be justified by the department,” Steinman wrote. “There are many evacuation routes that are not on the SHS and the designation of an evacuation route alone does not support designation as a state highway.”
Steinman reminded Keys that the city funded a preliminary engineering report in 2002 that included anticipated annual costs of the bridge.
“In 2004,” Steinman wrote, “the city received approximately $50 million of federal earmark funding to build a new structure. The funding agreement between the city and (FDOT) contains a specific clause related to maintenance responsibility. Section 13.14 clearly states that the city ‘agrees to maintain any project not on the State Highway System constructed under this agreement.’”
Steinman went on to say Florida Statute 339.08 does not authorize state funds to be used for the purpose of operating and maintaining a locally-owned bridge.
The city is currently strapped with funding approximately $3 million per year for maintenance of the three bridges and the causeway. The city must also establish a fund to rebuild the bridge when necessary in about 40 years.
Due to the excessive cost involved and the burden it would place on Treasure Island taxpayers, city leaders are considering a return to tolls on the causeway.
City consultant Atkins North America is currently conducting an analysis on the return of tolls and released traffic data Aug. 1 that indicated 22,000 to 23,000 vehicles cross the causeway on a daily basis. Of that number, an estimated 47 percent are visitors and residents. Of that number, 60 to 70 percent are visitors, “day-trippers” or people passing through to other beach communities.
Meanwhile, city officials are still awaiting a response from the Federal Highway Administration on whether or not it would be permissible for the city to return tolls. City leaders are seeking a federal response because part of the original agreement for bridge funding called for an end to tolls.
Former city commissioner Ed Gayton said “it’s crazy for the city to move forward (with the Atkins study and possible tolling) until we hear from the Federal Highway Administration.”
Civic activist Mel Lenehan said city leaders should not stop writing letters to state leaders for help. She said Steinman’s “no” letter was just the starting point.
“It’s not over ’til it’s over,” Lenehan said.
In other action, commissioners:
• Passed an ordinance amending the city’s Leave No Trace ordinance, which bans beachgoers from leaving beach gear overnight on the beach from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. The amendment extends the ban one hour to 8 a.m. to give Public Works employees more time to remove tagged property.
• Appointed Keys as the city’s voting delegate for the Florida League of Cities.
• Passed a resolution to purchase 550 stackable chairs for $85,395. The chairs will be used in the Community Center and the City Hall Auditorium.
• Passed a resolution to purchase 95 all-purpose tables, measuring 30-inches by 6-feet. Cost of the tables is $20,254.
• Passed a resolution to create a firefighter/fire inspector position that will pay between $41,492 and $61,470. The resolution also includes a new fire inspector vehicle at a cost of $19,460. In a related move, the city has named Police Chief Armand Boudreau as interim public safety director. Boudreau will be in charge of both the police and fire departments until a new fire chief is named by the next city manager. Former fire chief Frank Fernandez is no longer with the city.
• Passed a resolution creating a tax rate of 3.3368 mills for fiscal year 2018, which will be used on TRIM notices mailed on Aug. 21. The proposed millage rate is the same as the current budget year and is 7.55 percent above the rolled-back rate. It is estimated the rate will produce $5.617 million in tax revenue for the city, which is $454,939 more than the current budget. Treasure Island’s total taxable property value for fiscal 2018 is $1.735 billion, representing an 8.81 percent increase over the current budget year.
• Failed to move forward on a suggestion by Commissioner Ralph Kennedy that the city consider former Madeira Beach City Manager Shane Crawford as interim city manager to relieve current interim City Manager Amy Davis of double duties as finance director and director of city business. Commissioners Larry Lunn and Deb Toth voiced support for keeping Davis in her current role of interim city manager and finance director. Mayor Bob Minning agreed. “It doesn’t make any sense to bring in someone for about five months who is without knowledge of city business,” Minning said. “I’m in support of Amy and she has the full support of city staff.” The city recently hired a recruiter to begin a search for the next city manager. A new city manager is expected to be on board around the first of the year.
• Moved forward on a suggestion to purchase a 433-foot beach mat to make it easier for handicapped persons in wheelchairs to be wheeled out onto the beach. Cost of the mat is estimated at $16,646, which is expected to come from numerous sources and grants. Commissioners also moved forward on a request to purchase a new, upgraded wheelchair for handicap use on the beach at a cost of $3,426. The city also will spend $50 to put a seatbelt on the current wheelchair used on the beach. The current wheelchair is stored at the Bilmar Beach Resort and is available for use by the general public.