INDIAN ROCKS BEACH — Two issues dominated the Indian Rocks Beach City Commission’s October regular meeting agenda — short-term rentals and recycling, although the former issue was not meant to be discussed, according to a bold headline on the printed agenda packet.
Despite the header stating, “There is no discussion item on short-term rentals on this agenda,” plus City Manager Gregg Mims expressly stating the issue would be discussed at length during a special public meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 15, the first half-hour of the Oct. 11 meeting was spent doing just that, as several residents and a couple of commissioners weighed in on the hot-button topic.
Later, the subject of recycling led to a lengthy discussion on the future of the city’s curbside pickup program, with the commissioners ultimately divided on which route to take moving forward.
Outrage over rentals
Several incensed residents once again came to the podium during the public comment portion of the meeting to express their displeasure at the city’s short-term rental situation.
The issue that started years ago with a few rental units on the beach side of Gulf Boulevard has slowly taken over streets and neighborhoods on the Intracoastal side. It's led to “party house” conditions complete with trash, noise and parking problems and causing a group of residents to band together to fight the “cancer in the community,” according to the group’s unofficial spokesperson, Jerry Newton.
“We are greatly disappointed to see that there’s no agenda this evening to address short-term rentals this evening,” Newton told the commission. “It’s beginning to look like our city leaders aren’t now willing to do anything about this cancer, and the answer that our hands are tied isn’t going to cut it.”
Newton said initial steps should be taken, including “putting reasonable regulations in place to monitor and track these uncontrolled businesses,” adding, “these are things we can do now.”
According to Mims, the city is in the process of redefining the ordinance that covers codes and regulations to bring it more up to date.
“The last few weeks there has been a lot of behind-the-scenes work looking at vacation rentals rules for the city,” Mims said two minutes into the meeting, adding, “the city cannot outlaw them, but we can regulate them within limits.” Mims said staff has “met with individual commission members and looked at other city’s ordinances and we began the process of implementing additional code enforcement procedures as a result of our second full-time code enforcement officer coming on board.”
Mims noted that “since Oct. 1, we’ve verified the 24-hour contact names and numbers for all vacation rentals that are regulated by ordinance, and they’ve assembled a master list and began regular correspondence with the 250 registered VRBOs, or rentals.”
Mims also said that Pinellas Suncoast Fire & Rescue Chief Jeffrey Davidson is “looking into adopting their own ordinance that would regulate vacation rentals from a fire code and prevention standpoint.” He said if they adopt an ordinance, the city “would include them in our annual renewals of STRs.”
Mims concluded by stating they’re meeting with Holmes Beach officials in early November to compare and discuss their vacation rental ordinances, and they “will be prepared to report back to the commission with a specific list of recommendations of amendments” to the existing ordinance during a special meeting Nov. 15 at 6 p.m. When Mims asked if that was acceptable, all five commission members said “yes.”
Recycling up in air
While surveys have shown most residents support a curbside recycling program, it’s up to the city’s leaders to determine at what cost. And with their contract set to expire Dec. 31 and facing an 80% increase over the current three-year deal, the City Commission must make a decision on the future of curbside recycling in IRB, and fast.
“Our current contractor has indicated that our contract couldn’t be extended under the same terms due to an increase in operating costs they’re experiencing, including fuel, capital, labor and inflation,” said Dean Scharmen, the city’s public services director. He added the proposed rate change “would equate to an 88% increase,” or $210,000, from the current contract.
Based on those numbers, the monthly rates would go from $6.20 per household to $12.30. Scharmen said based on that information, they came up with four options for the commission to consider. The city can continue the curbside recycling program with the current contractor at the proposed increase and pass the costs to the residents; implement a hybrid program where recyclables would be collected locally and dropped off at specific sits that take aluminum and corrugated cardboard only; obtain what is called a “piggyback bid” where IRB could get the same terms and conditions as any other city; or discontinue the city’s curbside recycling program entirely.
“I think our current way of recycling and the escalating costs no longer make sense for us,” Vice Mayor Denise Houseberg said, adding she believes the hybrid program would be a better solution. After an extended discussion of the options, two of her fellow lawmakers, Commissioner Jude Bond and Mayor Cookie Kennedy, agreed.
“I think we all have the best intentions, and everybody wants to recycle because you think you’re doing the right thing for the environment,” Kennedy said. “Then we find out what we’re trying to do is not happening … and for me it’s very sad we can’t find a way to do this that isn’t expensive, because I think recycling should be part of who we are.”
Mims said staff would gather more information on the hybrid program and present it to the commission at their next regularly scheduled meeting Wednesday, Nov. 9.