BELLEAIR BLUFFS — The trimming of dangerously low tree branches on the city’s east side will be completed by the end of next month, Public Works Supervisor Russ Schmader announced at the July 15 City Commission meeting.

Then, work will move to the west side, where the tree trimming will begin in October.

The tree-trimming project began last September, when the City Commission approved a contract with a tree service to “elevate the canopies (under the trees) for 15-feet ground clearance so that taller trucks can pass through without hitting branches and limbs.”

The objective is to rid city streets of low hanging trees whose spreading branches have become an obstacle to traffic.

Schmader said the tree problem was one of the first things he noticed when he came to work at Belleair Bluffs in September.

“There were some low hanging trees that were getting damaged by garbage trucks, and there was a potential for emergency vehicles to hit them,” Schmader said at the time.

Commissioner Taylour Shimkus, who lives on one of the streets on the east side where trees have been trimmed, said the branches overhanging the streets had become so low there was not enough room for fire trucks or ambulances to get through or other large vehicles, such as moving trucks, school buses, tractor-trailer trucks or large delivery trucks.

Low-hanging branches on Los Gatos and Del Rio Drive have also been trimmed recently in response to resident requests, Schmader said. June was a “soggy month,” he said, causing low hanging trees to be “a major issue.”

Dolphin Drive road/sewer work delays

A project not going so well is the road and sewer repairs on Dolphin Drive. Shimkus said that work was begun three years ago.

“So why is this project taking so long?” she asked.

Schmader said the county operates the sewer and water system and had offered to replace all the sewer pipes that are bad. So far that has not happened, Schmader said.

“We want the county to participate in this,” said City Administrator Debra Sullivan.

“We’re working very hard to get them to join us,” Schmader said. “So far, we’re not on their radar. When they do their plans, Dolphin Drive is not on it.”

Schmader said he is eager to go with the project.

Tax rate stays at 5.35 mills

Commissioners decided to leave the city’s tax rate at 5.35 mills. The rate is currently the eighth highest of the 25 communities in Pinellas County. Neighboring Belleair raised its millage rate to 6.50 mills this year, and has the county’s second-highest rate. Largo, at 5.74 mills, is fifth.

In 2011, Belleair Bluffs raised its rate from 4.35 mills to 5.35 mills, where it has been since.

Nine of the 10 communities with the lowest rates are on the beach, including Belleair Beach, the seventh lowest at 2.03 mills. The higher property values on the beach allow those cities to tax at a lower percentage.

Tiny affluent beach community Belleair Shore has the county’s lowest tax rate, 0.67 mills. St. Petersburg’s 6.75 is the highest.

City Clerk Silcox gets praise and a raise

Promoted to city clerk last year, Alexis Silcox was praised by commission members and rewarded with a 3 percent pay increase.

Mayor Chris Arbutine said Silcox “does a great job” and is “an asset to the city.”

She goes above and beyond her duties as clerk, said Commissioner Suzy Sofer. She cited Silcox’s work in getting over $200,000 in reimbursement money for costs related to Hurricane Irma. Belleair Bluffs was one of the first cities to receive money for every single expense submitted, City Administrator Sullivan said.

Commissioner Jack Nazario said Silcox has “really blossomed into the position of city clerk” and “has become even more knowledgeable as she grows into her job,” he said.

Commissioner Joseph Barkley was not at the meeting.

Baby changing station in park restrooms

Putting baby changing stations in the city park restrooms was the idea of resident Wanda Rusinowski. She proposed the stations after seeing mothers change their babies’ diapers on picnic tables in the park, Sullivan said.

“She thought that was unsanitary,” Sullivan said.

“I thought that was a fabulous idea,” Sullivan said, adding, “We appreciate our residents’ input, and Wanda was absolutely right.”

Sullivan also said the baby changing stations are made of recyclable materials, and were paid for with grant money.