BELLEAIR BEACH — In a 4-3 vote, the City Council voted not to accept a grant that would have helped pay for improvements to Bayside Park. Those included a new boardwalk, exercise area, bocce ball court and a new gazebo, plus public restrooms.
“A lot of beautiful stuff we’ve never had before,” said Mayor Joseph Manzo, who was in favor of the grant.
The news that the city was awarded the grant came at the Dec. 2 council meeting. In making the announcement, Rives said the city’s application ranked second in the state competition to get a portion of the $3.8 million in grant money from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
The $200,000 grant would have required matching funds, meaning the city would have to spend $200,000 on the approved Bayside Park improvements to receive the grant money.
Council members appeared to favor accepting the grant at that time, but some had questions about the items included, especially the public restrooms, and the affordability of spending the money needed to get the grant funds.
Council decided in December to execute the grant agreement, but to wait for a review of the Finance Committee before actually committing funds to the project. Questions were raised by council members at the June 1 meeting about spending a lot of money to renovate the park while just approving a fee on residents to pay for needed stormwater control projects.
“I’m not ready to enter a commitment like this when we have unresolved flooding issues,” said Council member Jody Shirley.
Council member Dave Gattis said, “We already have money in the budget to maintain items in Bayside Park. With a $15 stormwater fee going to hit everybody’s water bill, now is not the time to be spending that money ($200,000) on this park.” He continued, “We have to take care of a (stormwater) problem we already can’t afford. This doesn’t make sense.”
Vice Mayor Glenn Gunn agreed. “We just made a business decision regarding stormwater. To turn around and invest in this park grant, I have to question.” He questioned some of the park improvements included in the grant, and added, “We have no idea of the recurring costs to maintain the improvements.”
Parks and Recreation Board Chairperson June VanScoyoc said upgrading and maintaining Bayside Park will improve property values, because potential home buyers look for amenities like parks.
“The grant gives us $200,000 in free money. That’s double return on our money, so why not fix it up,” she said. The park also provides a venue for weddings, concerts and other potential revenue sources for the city, said VanScoyoc.
“I have a hard time with the concept of free money,” Gunn said. “We have to invest $200,000 when we have a lot of other priorities such as needed infrastructure improvements.”
Shirley said, “I’ve talked to residents and find very little support for taking the grant.”
Resident Eileen Woodside said at the meeting she “and many others” oppose spending money for park improvements.
“This will bring in a lot more strangers. There will be garbage to pick up. I’m concerned with safety and sanitation,” she said.
Manzo, however, urged council members to accept the grant.
“This is our one park accessible to all the residents, and it has not been modernized in many years,” he said. “We were already going to spend $80,000 to fix the tennis courts. For $120,000 more, we get the matching grant, and a total of $400,000 in improvements.”
“This is something we should go for,” Manzo said.
Council voted to reject the grant. Manzo was joined by Council members Robin Ache and Marv Behm in voting to accept the grant.