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Phillies trip is still on for mayor, council

Clearwater won't put its annual visit on a budget diet. The city will spend at least $4,700 on a trip to a Phillies game.

Published June 1, 2007

[Times photo: Scott Keeler]
Clearwater mayor Frank Hibbard throws out one of three ceremonial first pitches at Bright House Networks Field in the Phillies' 2006 Spring Training home opener.

Howard Troxler's take

Clearwater city leaders have talked for months of budget cuts. But one thing not on the block: an all-expenses-paid baseball trip to Philadelphia.

Council members and two city managers will meet with Phillies owners and watch Mayor Frank Hibbard throw out the first pitch of a game.

It's an annual ritual since the Phillies made Clearwater their spring training home 61 years ago. But this year's two-night trip, expected to cost taxpayers at least $4, 700, comes as council members bemoan the city's fiscal future.

State lawmakers later this month are expected to limit the amount of property taxes local governments can collect, and already Clearwater has targeted recreation centers, jobs and a library branch for the chopping block.

One of Clearwater's own council members, newly elected Paul Gibson, said he's going, but paying his own way.

But other Clearwater officials say the trip is a worthy expense to nurture a relationship with a business that spends $7-million in Clearwater each year.

Officials plan to attend games tonight and Saturday and meet today with team owners to discuss ways to increase revenue at Clearwater's Bright House Networks Field, the mayor said.

Accompanying the council at taxpayer expense will be City Manager Bill Horne and Assistant City Manager Garry Brumback. Several city officials' spouses, along with a contingent from the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce, are also on the trip, but are paying their own way.

The city's costs: airfare on Southwest Airlines, roughly $100 per ticket; hotel rooms, $216 each night at a Marriott; daily food allowance for officials, per city policy, $64 each.

While State Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, has joined other lawmakers in bashing local governments for burgeoning local budgets, he argued the trip will pay for itself.

"The Phillies give a lot back to this community, " said Hooper, who also went on such trips while he was a Clearwater commissioner.

Staff writers Tamara El-Khoury and Janet Zink contributed to this report.

[Last modified June 1, 2007, 08:56:55]

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