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Belleair referendum doesn't give voters choice

Letters to the Editor
Published September 20, 2005


The Belleair Town Commission has proposed a referendum for the November 2005 election. The stated purpose is to determine the electorate's consensus on the method to supply electric power.

Mayor George Mariani properly identified the two alternatives in a Feb. 13 re-election ad: " ... the commission agreed to allow the citizens of Belleair to vote either for the renewal of the Progress Energy franchise agreement or for a business plan to municipalize the electric distribution system."

He stated further that " ... A business plan will be available for citizens to review by early summer." The specifics of the franchise agreement and the "business plan" are not known. And the referendum addresses only the action the commission will take if a majority were to vote to purchase the electric system.

Over the past several years the town "divested" its Fire Department to Belleair Bluffs, now managed under a hold-harmless agreement by the Largo Fire Department. Belleair's wastewater function is now the responsibility of Clearwater. There was consideration of abolishing the town's Police Department in favor of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office despite a safety record unmatched by any other community in this and adjacent counties. A new recreation center is only partially funded and the town's infrastructure and the Belleview Biltmore Hotel continue to decay.

Given this background, does the town's management have the ability to own, manage, operate, maintain and improve an electric distribution system?

Every locality in the country which has considered, adopted or rejected municipalization faced so many variables that do not apply to the situation in Belleair, which has about 2,500 Progress Energy Florida customers, as to make the facts essentially inapplicable to the town's alternatives.

Key West municipalized in 1943. In 2002, operating costs for its almost 29,000 customers were about 60 percent higher than the Florida municipality average according to the Florida Public Services Commission. Maitland, population around 12,000, decided not to municipalize but to remain with Progress Energy Florida.

The Sebring Utility Commission or its predecessors provided electric power from about 1913 to 1993, when Progress Energy took over. The SUC had the highest residential rates in Florida and a debt of $120-million, or $10,000 for each of the 12,000 customers. Each Progress Energy customer incurred an additional charge of $18.51 per month for 15 years to pay off the debt.

Winter Park, population around 24,000, municipalized in June 2005. In 2003 voters passed a $50-million bond proposal to buy the distribution system.

ENCO, a California utility company, is operating and maintaining the system. Progress Energy is the power supplier. A California call center handles outage calls, which has necessitated construction of a new phone system costing $450,000. And power outages continue, primarily from the poor condition of the distribution system and in separating circuits from the old Progress Energy grid.

What has changed since Belleair initiated a preliminary municipalization feasibility study in 1999? The town has elected a new mayor, Mr. Mariani. Progress Energy is no longer bullying Belleair, has admitted it made mistakes in the past, has made a reasonable offer with "proffers" to obtain a long-term electric service contract, and has agreed to negotiate in good faith. The underlying estimates of the cost of electric power in all previous studies are now outdated. Fuel costs continue to increase.

What hasn't changed since 1999? Town Manager Steve Cottrell, with the backing of Mayor Mariani, continues to advocate municipalization to the exclusion of a long-term contract with Progress Energy.

The Belleair Town Commission's fiduciary obligation to the electorate is to provide a referendum with the choices of at least the two alternatives Mr. Mariani identified. Each requires an explanation that is substantiated with assumptions, factual financial information, and the advantages and disadvantages compared with the other.

And tainting any alternative with obfuscations such as comingling undergrounding alternatives with the electric service decision or using inapplicable facts, scare tactics, or glittering generalities will serve merely to confuse the electorate and defeat the intended purpose of the referendum.

A referendum whose sole choice is to support or not to support buying the electrical distribution system and municipalizing is not a referendum on anything!


-- A.L. Hickerson, Belleair

Immigration laws deserve questioning

Re: Visa snag puts her life, plans on hold, story, Sept. 18.

I read with dismay about the Canadian-born 20-year-old who came to the United States at 6 weeks old and now cannot drive, work or take advantage of her scholarship, even though she graduated with honors from Dixie Hollins High School, until she becomes a U.S. citizen.

It never ceases to amaze me how U.S. laws apply only to certain people, but if you come from south of the border, legally or illegally, you are treated like kings and queens. You can work, drive, enjoy all the amenities of living in the United States, and get your children right into our schools and immediately placed on the free lunch program with no Social Security number, citizenship and no questions asked.

Meanwhile, the children of natural-born, hard-working, underpaid American taxpaying citizens are being dropped from the free lunch program on a daily basis.

There's something wrong with this picture and it's time to start asking serious questions of our legislators and people in high places in Washington as to why this is allowed. I smell a rat with the stench of conspiracy to defraud the American taxpayer. Either provide free lunch to all our children or none at all. You'd be surprised at how much money you'd save on all the paperwork and bureaucratic rigmarole.


-- Len Vivolo, Clearwater

Affection, training vital for a good dog

Re: Dog's role in bicycle accident at issue, story, Sept. 10.

What a shame that people not deserving of animals are allowed to own them. A 10-month-old Rottweiler is probably going to be sentenced to death because the owner is ignorant about how to raise him.

A 10-month-old dog of any breed is a puppy. They want love and affection and will give it in return unless mistreated and taught otherwise. Raise him to be a loyal companion and then seek professional training to make him a guard dog if that is your desire.

Don't throw a puppy into a weed-filled lot to fend for himself and expect him to be a gentle pet nor a loyal watchdog. Tie him to a chain and you guarantee he will become a vicious dog. Nothing is more frustrating to an animal than to be tied up. When this dog protects the enclosed fenced-in area, he is only acting out of instinct and protecting his territory.

That same instinct gave him the intelligence to stay with and protect a seriously injured man who had fallen from his bicycle. While the dog may have startled the man on the bicycle, it's obvious the intent was not to hurt him since there were no bite wounds or scratches.

From the dog's name, which is too derogatory to print in the newspaper, to the way he is treated, it is obvious the owner is the ignorant one. If you don't know how to care for this animal, give it to someone who does or have it euthanized.

Rottweilers are very loving, loyal, caring, protective animals when treated with love and respect. They earn their vicious namesake when people treat them poorly. When left to their own resources, they can only act from instinct. Without guidance and love, the breed's tremendous power and strength can be a disaster waiting to happen.

Owner John Woodhull, please treat this dog right, train it or give it up. Whatever you do, do not chain it. Even your neighbor who is a little afraid of the dog recognizes it needs some affection. It is a puppy. It wants to play and will seek affection and approval from wherever it can find it. If you don't provide it, the dog will continue to sneak out of the fenced area.

Whether this dog becomes vicious or not is entirely up to you. It can be both a loyal companion and an excellent watchdog without becoming a vicious nuisance animal.


-- Judy Gershkowitz, Largo

[Last modified September 20, 2005, 01:55:19]


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