Advocates and officials around Pinellas County were breathing easier after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a $101.5 billion state budget on June 2, a record spending plan that includes millions of dollars for local infrastructure, education and social service projects.
DeSantis whacked more than $1 billion from the fiscal 2021-22 budget, most of that in federal relief money that was redirected from an emergency preparedness program into state reserves. But more than $4 million in construction projects along the Gulf beaches stayed in the plan, as did $50 million for a new appeals court building in Pinellas, funding that locks up the Gladys Douglas-Hackworth property for public space in Dunedin, and just over $1 million for a critical Indian Rocks Road project in Belleair.
State lawmakers produced the budget during the 60-day legislative session that ended April 30. Florida governors have line-item veto power over the document, and fingers were crossed locally as DeSantis dug in.
“It was a well-organized, well-thought-out budget process by all of our elected officials involved,” said Robin Miller, president of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce. “Overall, it was a success for everyone.”
St. Pete Beach reaps a $1.5 million restoration of Gulf Boulevard upon completion of its ongoing sanitary sewer project. The city sought the funding to incorporate pedestrian and mobility improvements to the project rather than simply resurfacing the vital roadway.
Madeira Beach officials learned plans to rebuild the city’s groin system to the tune of $1.75 million made it through the budget process. The existing system of concrete barriers protecting the beach from erosion was installed in the 1950s.
“They’re not beautiful, but they’re functional,” said Mayor John Hendricks. Because of the groin system, the city has not had to resort to the regular rounds of beach nourishment that have challenged beach communities to its north.
Hendricks said it wasn’t clear what shape the new system would take, but he hoped it would address halting the shifting of sand into John’s Pass, which has been plaguing one of the area’s top tourist centers.
Madeira Beach also landed $549,400 for roadway and drainage improvements. Treasure Island, meanwhile, received $375,000 for sewer lift station rehabilitation.
In Belleair, Commissioner Tom Shelly was thrilled to hear a request for $1.15 million in Indian Rocks Road improvements was a go.
“It’s a huge deal for us,” he said. The project will allow the complete reconstruction of .79 miles of the key arterial between Mehlenbacher and Poinsettia roads, including drainage, resurfacing, and a multimodal path for pedestrians and cyclists. While roughly 4,000 people live in Belleair, some 50,000 vehicles use the road daily.
“It’s a great start,” Shelly said. “We’re excited to get this project moving forward as quickly as possible. We’re hopeful that in future years, we can move forward with the next segment — Poinsettia to the roundabout (at Ponce DeLeon Boulevard).”
Oldsmar’s Douglas Road improvement project received a second round of funding, $1.5 million toward an improved, aesthetically pleasing corridor.
Lawmakers and the governor also took kindly to a request for $250,000 in improvements at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. The facility will renovate an existing outdoor area to serve both as an education space and a gathering place for performances and community use.
“Our legislators and the governor understood this is a good investment in community recovery,” said Susan Crockett, Ruth Eckerd president and chief executive. “We are sincerely grateful for the state’s support of our mission and ensuring arts education and cultural opportunities for residents.”
The state will foot the bill for a $50 million courthouse to be named after Bernie McCabe, the late Pinellas-Pasco state attorney who died in January after serving for nearly three decades. A site has not yet been determined, but the state requires the 2nd District Court of Appeal building to be on state or local land in Pinellas County.
The approval of the state budget put a bow on what local officials are considering a pretty nice package coming out of the 2021 legislative session. State lawmakers also addressed policy issues considered local priorities, giving municipalities the ability to ban electric bicycles on their beaches; stalling one bill that could have eliminated the county’s crosswalks with flashing yellow caution beacons; and halting another that usurped local control of short-term rentals.