ST. PETE BEACH — City commissioners plan to undertake an intense lobbying effort to persuade state legislators and county officials to help fund sewer system improvements that will eliminate St. Pete Beach’s moratorium on new hotel construction.
Improvements also will ensure sewage does not run into streets and onto the beach and waterways in the wake of a heavy storm.
St. Pete Beach’s sewer system is at capacity and in need of expansion estimated to cost from $12 million to $14 million. The city was forced to enact a moratorium on new hotel construction along Gulf Boulevard, which has halted commercial development and greatly reduced its ability to collect more revenue from tourist development and property taxes.
City Manager Wayne Saunders told commissioners “we need to look at financing options to add additional capacity to the city’s sewer force main.”
During a March 12 commission meeting, Vincent Tenaglia, administrative services director, said the city is pursuing all possible financial alternatives to add additional capacity to its force main and make infrastructure improvements.
He said the city recently began working with a lobbyist to secure state grant funding and is seeking additional tourist development tax funds from the county.
In one funding scenario, a lobbyist will try to secure an appropriation of $12 million in state agricultural funds to fund improvements, since improvement to the sewer system is classified as water project.
The city is also studying different loan options, including applying for either a 30-year bond, a 15-year private bank loan and most advantageous a 20-year revolving fund loan from the Department of Environmental Protection. While the state loan is the most likely choice, the city must qualify for the DEP loan, with its project being ranked against other jurisdictions, Tenaglia explained.
Meanwhile, the city manager explained 30 percent plans on sewer system improvements should be completed in April.
Commissioner Ward Friszolowski said he knows from talking to state legislators that they look favorably on the city putting up its fair share of the cost.
Mayor Al Johnson said the city should be awarded more Tourist Development Tax funds since St. Pete Beach generates $9 million in revenue for the county, second only to Clearwater beach. He said if St. Pete Beach were able to permit more hotel development, the county could gain more TDC and sales tax funds.
Commissioner Terri Finnerty said state Sen. Jeff Brandis, R-St. Petersburg, helped approved allowing TDC bed tax revenue to be used for infrastructure improvements.
Friszolowski suggested the city get information together on how much St. Pete Beach currently produces in bed tax revenue compared with an estimate of how much would be recouped even with one additional hotel project coming online.
“We should show what could be contributed in the future, put all the information together and make a request to TDC in a couple of months,” Friszolowski explained. “We have a reasonable request and don’t want to be in position of saying if we don’t get the help we won’t do it. We are in a position where we need the help, and we are willing to step up and help to provide a new source of revenue.”
Saunders said “you can’t put that burden for all the additional capacity on our citizens; part of the problem is dealing with the environmental aspect of the issue. In the event of a major storm we would get overflows in our system, with sewage running into the beach and bay.”
The city has “not been sitting on our thumbs here,” and is actively rebuilding pumping stations, and adding more lift stations. “We just need a little bit of assistance,” Johnson added.
Commissioner Melinda Pletcher said the city has made significant reinvestment into making the sewer system environmentally sound.
She suggested the city should run a publicity campaign to get the county and TDC to understand all St. Pete Beach has done.
City doesn’t want 60-foot rapid transit buses on its roadways
In other news, city commissioners said they do not want large 60 feet wide PSTA rapid transit buses on its roadways, saying they are not a good fit for Gulf Boulevard. In contrast, most local PSTA buses are typically 40 feet wide.
Commissioners agreed transit stations for wider buses would take up too much space along Gulf Boulevard. Suggested rapid transit stops include the Don CeSar, an area near The TradeWinds and Sirata hotels, as well as 75th and Gulf Boulevard.
In addition, motorists would have much more difficulty maneuvering around a 60-foot-long bus on narrow Gulf Boulevard, commissioners said.
City officials said they plan to endorse a resolution asking PSTA not to tout St. Pete Beach as a potential funding source of $1.5 million for its rapid transit project.
City Attorney Andrew Dickman advised the city to send PSTA a letter asking them to stop suggesting St. Pete Beach agree to be a rapid transit funding source in its literature.
Pletcher questioned whether the city “would be way more effective” if it used the $750,000 paid to PSTA each year to operate its own bus system.
Rather than being a part of the PSTA system, St. Pete Beach contracts to pay for bus service. Friszolowski said it looks like PSTA is trying “to get us into their system without them even asking.”
Friszolowski added he “wouldn’t mind us creating our own system again.”
The commission plans to discuss the topic again when it considers a resolution at a future meeting.