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Scramble begins to fund boulevard improvements

Several towns and the county face hard choices now that the state won't help pay for work on Gulf, Tyrone and Park.

© St. Petersburg Times
published June 9, 2002

Big projects on two major south-county roads are stalled after Gov. Jeb Bush's vetoes struck away money to help pay for them.

A massive drainage project on Park Boulevard and the Tyrone Boulevard overpass tear-down are on hold until other funding sources turn up, an unlikely prospect for the time being.

Meanwhile, money to begin a $30-million Gulf Boulevard beautification project also was axed from the state budget.

"There are an array of reasons why the governor takes veto action or signs off on projects," said Bush spokeswoman Elizabeth Hirst. "We don't have a funding pot that is constantly overflowing. We have to make choices."

The vetoes hit especially hard in Pinellas Park, where officials lost one of their few remaining hopes for help with massive drainage improvements to Park Boulevard.

Persistent lobbying by Pinellas Park officials, who say repairs to Park would help the entire county because that is a hurricane escape route, had convinced state Sen. Jim Sebesta, R-St. Petersburg, to ask for state money.

Sebesta originally asked the Legislature for $1.2-million in state funds, but that was whittled down to $500,000 by session's end, Pinellas Park City Manager Jerry Mudd said.

"At the end it was reduced to zero by the governor," Mudd said Thursday.

That apparently leaves the Pinellas Park council with a hard choice: Let city residents pay the multimillions it will take to fix Park Boulevard drainage or drop the project.

City Council members in Pinellas Park will get their first chance to make that decision late this month or early next month when the city's capital improvements budget comes before them for discussion. The proposed budget currently has a line item for $4.8-million for Phase I improvements. Phase I would fix the worst flooding on Park between 49th Street N and the railroad tracks to the west.

Mudd said it could cost the city a bit less because the state Department of Transportation has promised to contribute about $1.5-million to Park improvements in the 2004-05 fiscal year. The county also has budgeted $205,000 this fiscal year for replacement of utilities at 49th Street when the improvements are done.

Mudd said the city is continuing talks with county officials in hopes the commission will contribute more money to the project.

The Tyrone Boulevard overpass project was to have been done in conjunction with a resurfacing project, which will go ahead this week. The $400,000 request also would have gotten work started on the $6-million overpass job.

Now, said county planning director Brian Smith, "We don't have any money to do anything on it."

Arts programs fared better than road projects on the governor's veto list.

"I have one word. 'Yahoo!' " said Florida Craftsmen executive director Michele Tuegel about the $367,240 that stayed in the budget for her organization to buy its building at 501 Central Ave.

Also receiving state funds were the St. Petersburg Museum of History, whose $250,000 will allow it to begin an expansion late this summer; Great Explorations, which got $250,000 to renovate space for its new Sunken Gardens facility; and the Gulf Beach Art Center, which received $143,000 for renovations to its 1959 building.

The Florida International Museum received $500,000 for renovations, but St. Petersburg city officials have talked about moving the museum. Museum officials couldn't be reached late last week.

County officials had hoped the $125,000 state Rep. John Carassas requested for Gulf Boulevard would help get the project off the ground. U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young already brought home $500,000 in federal funds for the planning and engineering phase of the project, but Bush cut the state contribution.

The county's $30-million plans for Gulf Boulevard include burying unsightly utility lines, adding landscaping along the beach thoroughfare and building trolley shelters. The project is aimed at sprucing up the area tourists most often see.

The county is considering raising the gas tax to make Gulf Boulevard and other projects possible, but was also looking to the state for funding help.

J.J. Beyrouti, the mayor of Redington Shores and president of the Barrier Islands Governmental Council, an organization of elected officials, said the $125,000 request was such a small amount that he suspects Bush vetoed it "more out of taking a position than the value of the money."

Beyrouti's plan? "We need to go for a lot more money next year."

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