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By JAN WESNER CHILDS
All four hopefuls vying for three council seats support burying utility lines. All but one want to hire a city manager.
BELLEAIR BEACH - Four candidates are running for three at-large City Council seats. The top three vote-getters win the election. It's not often that the number of candidates outweighs the number of open seats in this town of 2,106. The city is so small that three of the candidates live on the same street.
Besides the council election, voters also will decide whether Belleair Beach should hire a full-time city manager.
Candidates Jeffrey Coulson and Marvin Behm are newcomers to politics. Donna Durante and Kathy Dalpiaz are incumbents running for their second two-year terms.
All four stated their platforms and answered questions during a candidates forum Thursday at City Hall. Most of the focus was on three issues: underground utility lines, sewer rates and the referendum.Utility lines
The candidates said they would support burying utility lines. They cited ever-increasing property values and said putting the lines underground would support that trend.
The problem is how to pay for the change.
North Redington Beach is spending half of its $4-million reserve fund to put utility lines underground. In Belleair Beach, the cost likely would be passed to homeowners, although Durante suggested the city could secure grants.
Coulson said he would support underground utility lines if it's what residents want. Part of his platform is to hold more town meetings and develop a way to query residents on their needs.
Besides the underground utility lines, Behm would like to see more landscaping and pedestrian crosswalks along Gulf Boulevard.Sewer rates
Dalpiaz, who is on the city finance committee, took heat from the audience for her role in approving a consultant's report that led to higher sewer rates. Based on the report, the council eliminated flat-rate sewer fees last summer and based its charges on usage. More than half of the city's residents had higher bills.
"The sewer fiasco, if you want to call it that, was that we didn't realize there were so many homeowners who used so much water," Dalpiaz said. "We used the best information available to us at the time to make the decision to increase the rates."
Durante said she worked like "a rat terrier" to have the change reconsidered.
The sewer rates are one reason Coulson decided to run.
The City Council capped sewer rates in November, reducing most users' bills. Rates are expected to go down even more - an average of about $37 less on a two-month bill - now that the city has decided to sell its sewer system to Pinellas County. The sale will be final March 15.Referendum
Day-to-day operations of the city are run by a part-time, elected mayor who has no voice on the City Council. If the referendum is approved, Belleair Beach would hire a full-time city manager.
All the candidates except Dalpiaz support it.
"Having a city manager running a $1.8-million budget just makes good business sense," Behm said.
Coulson said he would support whatever the voters decide.
Durante said hiring a city manager would take some of the politics out of running the city.
Dalpiaz disagreed, saying the city manager would be employed at the will of the council and would be susceptible to its influence.
Dalpiaz also has a problem with the cost of hiring a manager. A typical city manager's salary starts at about $60,000, not including benefits.
"This city is too small to spend that kind of money," Dalpiaz said. "I don't think we can afford an experienced city manager. What we would afford is a beginner."[Last modified February 29, 2004, 01:15:11]
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