LARGO — Despite an increased effort to lobby legislators and secure state funding for projects, the city in recent years has been shut out of the final budget.
Officials hope a focus on hurricane preparedness and environmental quality will change that during this year’s legislative session, which begins Jan. 14.
As part of that effort, commissioners on Dec. 17 voted 7-0 on a prioritized list of three projects that could both help the environment and possibly save Largo taxpayers money.
The top request is $90,000 for an engineering analysis to prevent street flooding in the Keene Park neighborhood by making sanitary sewer improvements.
According to the city, the sewer infrastructure in that area was developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s and is in need of upgrades. An assessment also showed that the area was one of five regions in the city that experienced a high volume of sewer overflows during Hurricane Hermine in 2016.
Officials say state funding for the project, which would serve an estimated 1,000 residents and enhance water quality in the Allen’s Creek Watershed, could also help delay wastewater utility rate hikes for residents.
Rep. Chris Latvala has agreed to sponsor the project and the city has $109,900 in matching funds for the analysis.
The other projects on the list are $140,000 for Clearwater-Largo Road district stormwater improvements to prevent street flooding during summer storms, and $300,000 to help purchase land to create a regional stormwater retention pond in the medical arts district.
Rep. Nick DiCeglie has agreed to sponsor both.
The project will need backing from the Senate as well, so Intergovernmental Relations Coordinator Cheryl Reed said Sen. Jeff Brandes has given preliminary indications he would be willing to sponsor all three.
City Commissioner Jamie Robinson said having their backing certainly helps, but he would’ve liked to see the process get started sooner so that he and other commissioners can try to use their influence to move the requests along.
“If we have a priority, we probably need to be talking to the legislators months out before the start of session, not at start of session,” he said.
He added, “We do a good job of getting the sponsors and working our way through there. We just have not been successful in bringing it home. So we’re trying to get that touchdown.”
Commissioner John Carroll said he is pleased with the progress Reed and the city have been making the past few years in making inroads with lawmakers.
“Really the key to this whole discussion is the relationships we have with these legislators,” he said. “So I think we have come a long way in not just putting together a wish list at the last minute of things they might buy for us.”
Reed also presented commissioners with a list of requests from other local entities that could have an impact on residents. Among them is an $800,000 request by Pinellas County to help fund the design and construction of outdoor recreation facilities in the High Point community. It would include multipurpose fields for soccer and lacrosse and a hard court play area.
While the request isn’t from the city, Reed said showing solidarity with others helps support the cause for the entire county.
“In keeping with some of the feedback that has been provided by the legislative delegation, they would like to continue to see us work more collaboratively in the area of appropriations,” she said. “So we felt that this was a way in which to show that we’re working as a community trying to bring forward appropriations requests.”