ST. PETE BEACH — By a narrow margin, a majority of city commissioners decided neighborhoods outside the historic district should have flooding problems fixed and potholes paved before the city spends $125,000 to install decorative street signs in Pass-A-Grille and along parts of Corey Avenue.
The total cost to replace street signs throughout the entire city is estimated at $690,000 and would have to be budgeted in phases over several years. City Manager Alex Rey told commissioners at a Dec. 1 meeting there is currently enough funds in the budget to do Pass-A-Grille, the Corey Avenue area and some major streets, with smaller and side streets done later.
At the meeting, residents spoke out against funding decorative streets signs in Pass-A-Grille, telling commissioners the city should first address their street flooding and pothole issues that have lingered for years, before beautifying the historic district.
Resident Mark Grill told commissioners the street sign item should be tabled until “such a time that our must-have projects are at a point where we can start working on these nice-to-have projects. … Residents see these decorative signs as an unnecessary, low priority, nice-to-have item. I’m asking the board to reallocate funds that have been budgeted for this item to other more urgent projects. … The must-have projects should come first and directly improve the quality of life for residents. This includes flood mitigation and resiliency.”
Commissioner Doug Izzo said he asked for the item to be pulled off the consent agenda for discussion, due to the amount of negative comments he received from residents.
Izzo added, “I don’t think it’s any secret that I was even against this item at the budget workshop. If the city had infinite amounts of money, I still would be against this, just because we have a fiduciary responsibility with taxpayer money to use it responsibly. This is like the city going out and replacing all their fleet vehicles with Mercedes. We have street signs and they work. I don’t see why we have to spend over a thousand dollars on a sign.”
Mayor Al Johnson disagreed.
“It’s not a have-to-have, it’s a nice-to-have item, but then again look at the other stuff we do that is nice to have,” he said. “We spend half that much money putting Christmas decorations up and those are going to come down in a month. Do we stop doing that? Do we shut down our community center because it’s a nice-to-have and not a necessary-to-have?”
Commissioner Ward Friszolowski said the signage was something that could be considered in the future, “but not until we deal with issues of flooding.”
He noted the city is taking care of some of the big flooding issues, like along Pass-A-Grille Way and Blind Pass Road, but in his District 3 where residents have suffered the effects of street flooding for several years, there is no relief.
“I think we just have to get some of those other things done. When I got reelected in 2016 we are still talking about the same exact flooding issues in Belle Visita. …We have to get those done before we do decorative things,” he added.
Izzo said people are looking forward to a time when they can drive down the road without their cars going into potholes. “They don’t really care what the street sign looks like,” he said. “I just want to make sure attention is given to some of these neighborhoods that haven’t seen anything.”
In what appeared to be a reference to several recent improvements made in Pass-A-Grille, Izzo said, “I know the city can do more than one thing at a time, but the whole city did not get new sewer, new sidewalks, new street lights, new trees, and new parks. They are still with the old stuff, and they are wondering, ‘Can I get my park redone, and can I get landscaping at the entrance of my neighborhood?’”
If other neighborhoods can get some improvements and amenities then “maybe they will want nice fancy street signs, but they are not at that point yet,” he added.
Commissioner Melinda Pletcher said that while the city spends millions on infrastructure projects that no one sees, it should also fund items to dress up neighborhoods and beautify the public realm. Some money should be put into beautifying the aesthetic look of the city to make it look like a high-quality place and impact property values.
“We just spent millions and millions and millions of dollars on everything from the library to the undergrounding of utilities and the stormwater and sewer expansion. We spend so much money on street resurfacing. We prioritize the infrastructure of our city every day of the week. There is very little we can do that gives back to our neighborhoods, and the pretty factor when you come into the city,” she said. “At some point when a resident drives down their street and has a pretty stop sign and the street name is framed out in a decorative post, I think that’s giving back to them.”
She said if the city waited until all the infrastructure items were completed it would never do any wish-list items.
Johnson said, “If I thought this amount of money would slow down any of the big projects we are doing, I’d be the first guy in the world to say this is crazy.”
In a 3-2 vote, city commissioners voted to not allocate $185,000 to fund the first phase of the decorative street sign project, with Johnson and Pletcher voting for the budget item.