BELLEAIR BLUFFS — There will be a contested election this year, the city’s first in five years. Longtime commissioners Jack Nazario and Suzy Sofer are being challenged by Steve McNally, a newcomer to city politics. The top two vote-getters will win seats on the commission. The election is March 9.
Mayor Chris Arbutine is also up for election this year, but is unopposed, and will be continuing to serve in a position he has held since 2001. He is Pinellas County’s longest-serving mayor.
Though this will be McNally’s first run for political office, he has attended commission meetings over the past few years, and has spoken out on issues such as a proposed increase in the utility tax, which he opposed, and favoring reducing the property tax rate last year to the rollback rate. The commission voted to increase the utility tax to finance ongoing road projects, and left the millage rate unchanged.
In August, McNally was appointed by Arbutine to serve on a committee to discuss changes to the city’s law on parking of boats and RVs on residents’ property, which had become a controversial issue. Arbutine described McNally as “an avid boater.”
To be elected to the commission, McNally will have to beat either Commissioner Sofer or Nazario. Both have been commissioners since 2009. They were elected in what has been described as a historic commission race where three commission seats changed in one year. Current Commissioner Joseph Barkley also was elected to the commission that year, and Arbutine was reelected mayor.
In 2010, Taylour Shimkus replaced Commissioner Hunt Brand, and since that year there have been no changes to the commission. Challengers in 2013, 2014, and 2016 were unsuccessful.
Playground renovation coming
The city will soon begin spending $150,000 in grant and donation money to totally renovate the children’s playground and park next to City Hall.
“We submitted the finalized paperwork and are on our way to renovating the playground, totally funded by grant or donation,” City Administrator Debra Sullivan told the commission at the Dec. 17 City Commission meeting.
The planned improvements include replacing the preschool kids equipment and enhancing the older children’s play area, the addition of adult exercise equipment around the perimeter of the park, and adding another picnic area. Other possibilities are a shuffleboard court and a gazebo.
Bid awarded for Dolphin Drive roadway project
The commission also voted to approve a contractor to do the reconstruction of Dolphin Drive. The job went to Kamminga & Roodvoets Inc., which had been the low bidder and was recommended by Bill Reidy of Advanced Engineering, the project engineer. Reidy said K&R has been “very stellar in their performance.” They have done a number of similar projects, Reidy said, and he has been “very impressed with their professionalism.”
Reidy said the roadway is “in dire need of repair.” A major part of a reconstruction involves replacing the corrugated metal pipes, which are about 30 years old and “have been deteriorating for many years,” with new reinforced concrete pipes that Reidy said would last 50 years or more. They are also larger pipes than those replaced, he said. Drainage will also be improved with the new pipes.
Money from an increase in the utility tax will be used to pay for the project, which will cost the city around $400,000, Sullivan said. The county pays an additional $250,000 for the part of the project that is their system, such as potable water and sanitary sewer. They are also adding fire hydrants.
The Dolphin Drive road reconstruction begins needed repairs to streets on the east side of the city, after finishing the west side, which was eligible for FEMA grant money to help finance the project’s cost there, Mayor Arbutine said.
Shimkus, who lives on the east side, said she is thrilled to see the Dolphin Road project is finally getting done. “It’s been a couple of years coming,” she said. “I’m very excited about this. It’s good to see the project finally getting done and that we had the funds to pay for it.”
Shimkus said she was opposed at first to increasing the utility tax, but the money was set aside to be used to pay for road projects and “although I did oppose it, I’m looking back now and I’m glad the commission did approve it.”
Combined holiday event “went well”
Despite the restrictions posed by COVID-19, the city’s Tree Lighting event and festivities went well.
This year, three holiday events in the city were held on the same night, Dec. 4. Sullivan said she had met with the owners of the Plaza shopping center next to City Hall and Antique Alley about doing a joint event, “and it turned out wonderful.”
She said everybody was out on one night, social distancing was not a problem, the hayride was held, Santa was socially distanced, and decorated individually wrapped cookies, locally made, were a big hit.
Shimkus said, “There was just such a great vibe, everybody felt safe, seeing new faces and meeting new people. It was just a great event.”
The Christmas Tree lighting, a main attraction of the city’s event, was done and “the tree was just gorgeous,” said Sofer.