BELLEAIR BEACH – Two years ago, voters approved a referendum issue that directed council members to develop a financing plan to underground all public utilities in Belleair Beach.
Since that time, as the cost of undergrounding has continued to rise, the issue has been mostly put aside in favor of more easily done beautification projects.
In May of last year, the City Council decided to set up a committee to study ways to use nearly $3 million in funds Belleair Beach is due to receive as part of a massive Gulf Boulevard Beautification project paid for with county Penny for Pinellas funds. That committee’s efforts have so far produced a crosswalk beautification project, which is currently underway.
But the undergrounding of utilities has remained on hold.
That is about to change. Prodded by several citizens who are passionate about undergrounding, Mayor Rob Baldwin announced at the April 7 city council meeting that he is proposing setting up a subcommittee of the beautification committee devoted solely to looking at ways to underground the city’s utilities.
Baldwin said he had met with residents Marvin Behm, Bill Ward, and Jim Corrigan about serving on the committee.
“We need to look more seriously as to how to formulate and pay for undergrounding,” Baldwin said in comments made after the council meeting. He said the residents had passed the referendum directing council to look into ways to underground utilities “and we owe it to the citizens to look into it.”
Baldwin said the committee would look at alternate sources to fund an undergrounding effort and develop a master plan to accomplish the job. The project is estimated to run as much as $9 million just to do Gulf Boulevard, and much more for the entire city.
If an undergrounding program is
adopted, the costs are expected to be mostly passed along to citizens in the form of assessments. The $2.9 million in county Gulf Boulevard beautification funds would cover only a fraction of the total costs. That money can be used only on Gulf Boulevard projects and will not even be available in its entirety until 2019.
The undergrounding subcommittee has a huge job ahead, but Baldwin said, “We have to tackle (the undergrounding issue) and see if we can solve it.”