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Tarpon Springs flawed in spending priorities

Published February 16, 2004

Re: Tarpon Springs may go it alone on water, story, Feb. 12.

The City of Tarpon Springs is ready to invest $36-million to operate its own water supply system, even as the existing infrastructure continues to collapse from lack of proper maintenance.

This is the same city that is still trying to work its way out of years of mismanagement and fines for improper practices at the city sewage facilities. The same city that is filled with rotting and failing sewer and water pipes that should have been repaired or replaced years ago. The same city that continues to put resources into opening new museums that it can't afford to staff or keep open, while it allows the crown jewel of Tarpon Springs, Craig Park, to slowly fall into the bayou as the seawall and sidewalks fail and maintenance workers apply temporary Band-Aids to the problem.

When the seawalls at Craig Park reached the point of danger this year, the city told us that it was a minor problem and a small section of the seawall would be closed for a short period for repairs during Epiphany. It is one month later, a large section of sidewalk is still fenced off with unsightly fence, no repair work has commenced and the rest of the seawall is still failing.

When city residents are told they will have to again boil water for consumption for four or five days, the city reassures with its comments in your article: "This is part of the normal operation of a water system of this age. Our budget's in place to address these issues."

For those of us that actually live in the city and put up with these outages, it is not normal and buying bottled water for five days not just an "issue" for some future budget to deal with.

It is time for the city leadership to wake up and change their priorities. Somehow we always have the city resources now for new museums, public safety buildings, a historic renovation of City Hall, the largest cultural events program (and staff) imaginable for a city of this size, or building a new water supply system, but when it comes to the nuts and bolts of maintaining what we have for our citizens, it just is not exciting enough and gets relegated to an issue for some future budget to fix.

As we head into the City Commission election cycle, it would sure be refreshing to get some leadership that isn't afraid to learn a lesson from Tampa Bay Water's experience with the desalination plant that doesn't work, and limit the city's activities to what it knows something about and can afford to do well.

-- Rick Glass, Tarpon Springs

Why are sewer fees so high?

Re: Tarpon Springs may go it alone on water, story, Feb. 12.

As usual, our community leaders sound like they are on top of things and doing what's best for you and me, the taxpayers.

Wrong! Who wouldn't want cleaner and cheaper water for their home, and the city makes a little profit too? If they want to help me and everyone else that lives in this community, they need to look, not at spending money to find cheaper, more profitable water, but at finding a better and cheaper way to dispose of the water we use.

I have a family of four, with all the showers and cleaning and four loads of wash a day it takes to keep the quality of life at a level I believe is not unreasonable. When I look at a water bill and see that I've spent $50 in a month to achieve this goal, I think, okay that seems all right.

But when I see it cost me $86 to dispose of that water, my head starts to spin. What magical thing happens to this water that makes it cost more in the drain pipe than in my coffee maker?

I believe the time, effort and money should be spent trying to relieve the residents of our community of one of the highest sewage costs in the county, if not the state. Of course, there's no profit in that.

-- John M. Fonseca, Tarpon Springs

Harborview Center benefits regular folk

Often, in order to be allowed to destroy something, you have to change its identity. Thus, those who wish to be rid of Clearwater's Harborview Center persistently refer to it as "a convention center." It is not and was never intended to be a convention center. From the beginning, it was a civic center and a conference center with a department store included.

At successive public hearings, the people of Clearwater pleaded for a department store to replace Maas Brothers, a civic center to replace the bayfront auditorium that had been torn down, and a conference center to serve the small motel industry of Clearwater Beach. When the Harborview was designed, it clearly met the wishes of the people of Clearwater. A million dollars, set aside for the auditorium replacement, was used on the Harborview Center with the understanding that the auditoriums there could be used by the public and for city recreation programs.

Not even the Chamber of Commerce leaders thought the Harborview was a convention center. They wanted a much larger convention center on Clearwater Beach and opposed the Harborview from the beginning. It was not designed to please the Chamber of Commerce leaders, so why are we seeking their opinion now? Last time I checked, the majority of them did not live in the city of Clearwater anyway, so why should they have a say about our civic and conference center?

The city of Clearwater donates large amounts to Ruth Eckerd Hall and the Long Center yearly, and no one complains. But those two facilities are where the rich people play. Our Harborview Center provides activities for the rest of us. Surely, Commissioner Frank Hibbard and the other commissioners should try and find a way for it to pay its way as much as possible.

But get rid of it? No! Let's start calling it the civic center it is and keep it serving the citizens.

-- Anne M. Garris, Clearwater

Harborview lesson still not heeded

Re: Is Harborview Center worth investment? editorial, Jan. 23.

With Harborview Center again thrusting out its financial sieve, Clearwater taxpayers need to be reminded of a Dec. 12, 1996, St. Petersburg Times editorial, Harborview: A lesson heeded? and insist on a current public hearing. The editorial statements included:

"Now we know who to blame for the financial fiasco of Harborview Center - nearly everyone who took part in the ill-fated project. City commissioners, city staff, the architect all had a hand in bad decisions that plagued the project with price increases and delays."

"The missteps, errors of judgment and arrogance of power were revealed in a Times story . . . "

"City residents were denied a public hearing on the purpose and costs . . . "

"This wound to the public trust will take some time to heal."

It remains to be seen if today's Clearwater City Commission will have the courage of one or more public hearings before a judgment on the worthiness of Harborview Center is rendered.

-- Hal H. Ebersole, Clearwater

City manager hitting back at firefighters

Re: City, fire union still at impasse, story, Feb. 6.

Are Clearwater officials so out of touch with Fire Department employees that they actually thought the contract ratification vote would pass? If the members overwhelmingly turned down the first offer, which included a 6 percent increase over three years, why would they be surprised that we would soundly reject an offer of 5 percent over three years?

Not surprising is the instant retaliation by the city manager for us not accepting this lesser offer. As stated in your article, he acted quickly to remove the premium cable channels from the fire stations. These are movie channels that are paid for by the crews at the stations. We have had them since the inception of cable.

He stated that these channels are "not used anywhere else in the city government." Has Bill Horne forgotten that we live at the fire station for 24 hours or more at a time? I don't believe any other city departments have showers or pots and pans. Would he like to take those away, too?

I am sure this is just the beginning of the ensuing retaliation. Horne's military background of "win at all cost" has become quite evident. I have been with the Fire Department for over 33 years and never has the employee morale been lower. For this reason, I will be retiring soon. I feel sorry for my union brothers and sisters who will have to stay and bear the burden until big changes are made.

-- Dave Daiker, International Association of Firefighters, Local 158, Clearwater

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[Last modified February 16, 2004, 01:31:39]

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