INDIAN SHORES — After months of trying to reach a settlement, the Town Council accepted Town Attorney Regina Kardash’s recommendation at the Oct. 8 Town Hall meeting to pursue litigation against Ameriscape US Inc. regarding a Gulf Boulevard beautification project.
Councilors unanimously agreed that Ameriscape’s actions left them no other alternative. On Aug. 30, the town sent Ameriscape a final demand letter for damages in the amount of $647,848 with 30 days to comply. Ameriscape replied on Sept. 10 that it might entertain an itemized list of uncompleted work in the amount of $22,372 only.
The town alleges that Ameriscape is in breach of contract. In a letter to Ameriscape’s attorney, Steven Thompson of Tampa, Kardash wrote that not only does the town have considerable evidence that Ameriscape breached its contractual obligations, but the town and the town’s landscape architect, Jonathan Toner of Terra Tectonics, have documented the company’s subpar performance.
Kardash outlined the breaches, including the cost to complete outstanding work, $22,372; title company irrigation claims, $4,476; and liquidated damages, $611,000. The estimated cost to restore the project by correcting damages from Ameriscape’s failure to follow the plans and instructions of the town engineer is estimated at $10,000.
The town further alleges that Ameriscape failed to secure the bonds required in the contract. Kardash also mentioned that the list of subcontractors Ameriscape provided to the town is incomplete, and that Ameriscape used subcontractors that had not been approved by the town as agreed.
In proceeding forward with litigation, Kardash had solicited offers of representation regarding the issues with Ameriscape and brought two of the offers to council: one from Bay Way Law of St. Petersburg and the other from Matthews Eastmoore of Sarasota.
“Both firms routinely handle complex commercial litigation, and would be well-suited to represent the town on the breach of contract claim against Ameriscape,” said Kardash.
The town attorney also said that she had worked with both firms.
After review and discussion, the council elected to go with Matthews Eastmoore of Sarasota. Although the hourly rate for Bay Way is $100 less per hour than Matthews Eastmoore, Matthews Eastmoore is a big firm with more litigation experience and Bay Way is a single-lawyer firm. The consensus was that the bigger firm had more to offer and would best demonstrate the town’s determination in this matter.
In other news
• Two council seats will be up for election March 17. The date is subject to change if there is a conflict with the Presidential Preference Primary, according to the supervisor of elections’ website.
Currently those seats are filled by Councilors Michael Petruccelli and Mike Hackerson. Each council position is for a three-year term.
Residents interested in running for these positions must file with the town clerk between noon on Friday, Dec. 6, and noon Friday, Dec. 13, which is the qualifying period. The process of qualifying includes appointment of a campaign treasurer and designation of campaign depository for the candidate, financial disclosure, loyalty oath, filing fees of $82.22, and a tentative number of 35 candidate petition cards.
• The Florida Department of Transportation will hold a public meeting regarding the town’s sidewalk project on Oct. 29 at 5 p.m. on the fourth floor of the Indian Shores Municipal Center. The public is encouraged to attend and to provide input.
“It’s going to be a messy process over the next two years,” said Mayor Patrick Soranno.
• The council approved a 6% increase to the current franchise agreement for collection and disposal of solid waste and recyclables in the town as of Jan. 1. The approved disposal rate for municipal, commercial and yard waste will increase from $37.50 to $39.75 per ton.
“This is the first rate increase for customers in 30 years and the rate is still the lowest disposal fee in the region,” Solid Waste Director Paul Sacco said in a Pinellas County memorandum. “The average family generating one ton of trash per year will see approximately a $2.25 increase per year.”
County officials expect to request two more increases of 6% each over the next two years. More information about Pinellas County Solid Waste is on its website: www.pinellascounty.org/solidwaste.
The current increase passed by 3-1 with Councilor Mike Petruccelli voting against. Councilor Bill Smith was absent.
• Three ordinances were adopted unanimously on their second and final reading. The first ordinance, regarding the police pension, clarified the option for the chief to elect not to participate in the pension plan with a retroactive date to last March. The second ordinance eliminated buoys and the third increased and defined spending limits for specified town employees.