BELLEAIR BLUFFS – People seeking to buy or be treated with medical marijuana will likely have to go other places than Belleair Bluffs. In a close vote, the commission decided at their Oct. 16 meeting to move forward with an ordinance that would ban marijuana-related facilities within the city limits.

A 180-day moratorium imposed on the establishment or operation of medical marijuana dispensing and treatment centers is due to expire in December, City Attorney Thomas Trask said.

Trask asked for direction from the commission on three possible actions. He told the commission they could either extend the moratorium, ban such facilities outright, or do nothing, which he said would allow the facilities to operate in locations where pharmacies are currently permitted.

A decision to ban the facilities would require the attorney to prepare an ordinance that the commission would vote on at upcoming meetings.

Trask cited a study that showed the optimal ratio of medical marijuana facilities is one for every 67,500 residents. He also said a report issued by the California Police Chiefs Association showed dispensary facilities may attract crime and cause adverse effects such as loitering, nuisances and increased traffic.

Commissioner Jack Nazario said a marijuana ban was the right choice for Belleair Bluffs.

“I don’t think we’re a community that’s large enough to even think about having one of these,” Nazario said. He added, “We want Belleair Bluffs to be known for other things. There are going to be plenty of other areas that allow this.”

Commissioner Suzy Sofer first said she favored extending the moratorium on medical marijuana facilities “until we get all the facts.” But, she said, “If a vote comes, I’d ban it in the city.”

“I don’t think we need to be the destination location for medical marijuana,” she added.

Mayor Chris Arbutine and Commissioner Joseph Barkley favored allowing the medical marijuana facilities in Belleair Bluffs.

Arbutine said, “It’s a new day. Local medical marijuana is now legal; it has medicinal purposes that are proven, and people want access to it.”

Barkley said Belleair Bluffs has a large elderly population “that may need this.”

“I say do nothing and allow it to exist here,” said Barkley.

Commissioner Taylour Shimkus agreed with Nazario and Sofer as they spoke. She then joined them in voting to go with an ordinance to ban medical marijuana dispensaries and treatment centers in Belleair Bluffs.

Attorney Trask will prepare the ordinance for the November commission meeting, with another reading in December.

Locally, Belleair Bluffs would join Madeira Beach, the Redingtons, Dunedin and Seminole in banning medical marijuana facilities. Clearwater, Largo, St. Petersburg, Safety Harbor and Tarpon Springs have all approved or are in the process of approving the sales.


City clerk gets bonus for “extra work well done”

City Clerk Debra Sullivan will receive a $10,000 bonus payment for handling Public Works responsibilities in addition to her own job, following the retirement of Public Works Director Robert David last year. The money will come from a $20,000 surplus in unpaid salaries in the Public Works budget, due to David’s leaving.

Mayor Arbutine said the bonus payment will recognize Sullivan for all the extra work she did during “an extraordinary year.”

“This was not a normal year,” Arbutine said. “We were building a fire station, had a hurricane go through, and had no Public Works Director. And we got off great.”

Barkley said Sullivan did “a tremendous job of doing things typically handled by Robert (David), and making sure the city is in good shape.”

“She went above and beyond,” said Sofer.

Sullivan said she put in a lot of extra work, including nights and weekends, and “It was very stressful.”

“But,” she told the commissioners, “I appreciate the faith you had in me as well. We definitely got through it.”

The city will now begin the search for a public works supervisor, either fulltime or part time, Arbutine said. Sullivan said the American Public Works Association and Florida League of Cities would be possible sources for candidates.

“We are looking for someone who has done this, or is interested in it,” said Sullivan.

She is working on a detailed job description. There will be a salary cap of $50,000, Sullivan said.