CLEARWATER – Clearwater city leaders updated their project wish list for the next round of Penny for Pinellas funding, which is scheduled to be voted on for renewal later this year, and approved a resolution of support for the 10-year, 1 percent tax levy.
Clearwater is one of 17 municipalities in the county that has depended on the tax to pay for capital projects, such as infrastructure, including bridges and roadwork, trails and parks, for the last 30 years.
The tax is paid for by residents, seasonal tenants and tourists and is not collected on essential items such as groceries and medications.
The city’s wish list for the next round of funding includes utility infrastructure updates, athletic fields and facilities upgrades, the implementation of the city’s waterfront master plan, acquisition of fire and police vehicles and public safety equipment, upgrades to police district III, neighborhood and community parks, bicycle paths and recreation trails and the beach marina, as well as construction of a public works complex, new City Hall and a downtown parking garage.
The total price tag for the proposed list comes just short of $140 million.
Council member Bill Jonson was initially disinclined to lend his support to the project list during the June 13 meeting, citing a lack of funding specifically dedicated to low-income areas of the city and older neighborhoods.
“I think this Penny for Pinellas extension would be far stronger if it included an investment in neighborhoods, especially our neighborhoods that have been around for awhile,” Jonson said. “I think we are missing an opportunity and for that reason, I will be voting no for this agenda item.”
Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos was quick to address his colleague’s decision.
“It’s going to be unfortunate that we’ve got to go out now to the public to ask them to approve Penny for Pinellas and we’re not going to be able to speak as a unanimous voice,” Cretekos said. “You’re putting all of us in a very awkward position.”
Jonson said that he did support Penny for Pinellas, but wasn’t completely on board with the city’s project list.
“I’m saying that we have an opportunity to make investments in our neighborhoods, to make them more attractive to new citizens to the area,” Jonson said. “It’s an opportunity I think we are missing.”
Cretekos reiterated his fear that not being able to move forward as a unanimous voice on the issue might hinder its approval by voters in November.
Ultimately, Jonson conceded the mayor’s point and changed his vote to one of support for the list and resolution.