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    Letters to the Editors

    Respect the property rights of billboard owners

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 22, 2001

    Your March 15 editorial, The billboard boosters, needs correcting. The proposed legislation does not prohibit local governments from regulating billboards or even from having them removed. It does not require local government to pay $400,000 per sign. The legislation simply requires that if local government is going to take private property for "public good," the owner of that property be paid the fair market value for the property taken.

    The Florida Constitution states, "no private property shall be taken except for a public purpose and with full compensation therefore paid to each owner or secured by deposit in the registry of the court and available to the owner." Amortization cannot and does not meet this requirement. The federal government, the state of Florida and 38 other states require that local governments pay just compensation when a legally erected sign is taken. The same laws that protect the average citizen's home or business should protect the property rights of a sign owner as long as the sign was legally erected. The federal and state Constitutions do not exempt billboards from this protection.

    The proposed legislation is simply an indicator that Florida, a private-property-rights state, is working to further ensure that all business interests get fair and equal treatment under Florida Law.

    The Times, with its policy to "merely tell the truth," should mention that the outdoor advertising industry is a competitor with the newspaper. After all, a newspaper is an advertising business that sells ads by producing a newspaper. We are direct competitors for the advertising that businesses use to maintain and grow. Your paper is once again trying to eliminate the competition!
    -- Patti Blass, general manager, Infinity Outdoor Advertising, Tampa

    Industry just seeks fair payment

    Re: The billboard boosters.

    NOTICE: "The State Department of Transportation has determined that First Avenue S and Fourth Street S in St. Petersburg are slated for extensive widening and the St. Petersburg Times must vacate its building for this public improvement."

    The result of which would surely be met by a team of lawyers and accountants on behalf of the affected party, I would guess, fighting for the highest cost of property value, loss of business income, costs for the purchase of and move to a new headquarters, costs for business interruption and attorney's fees.

    FURTHER NOTICE: "By the way, the state will not pay a single dime for this property, but will allow the business and property owners to "write-off' their costs and investments over the next seven years, including the cost of removing the building for us. You can have 10 years if you really need it."

    The result of which, I guess, would be met with shock, disdain, charges of near communism and the irresponsible taking of private property by an abusive, overbearing government.

    Yet, when the billboard industry comes under fire, from only local governments, to remove billboard structures in the manner described above, the Times lambastes the billboard industry repeatedly for fighting with the same tactics and campaigning for their removal.

    The billboard industry seeks to not overrule local control. It does not seek to abridge the right of any local government to remove a single billboard. The industry simply seeks the same respect, rights and procedure that any taking of land or business by a government have in this country. To be fairly paid for it. Just as the Times, in my fiction above, or any other business owner, would certainly fight for and demand.

    So the legislators noted in the editorial are not trying to overrule local governments, as the Times asserts, but simply calling for the responsible removal of billboards by local governments. The billboard industry is actively trying to compromise and bend on the issue, and it is striving to meet concerns of all those involved. This is far, far from the assertion that these legislators are "tying the hands of local governments."
    -- Todd Pressman, Pressman & Associates, Inc., Clearwater, agent representative for Eller Media Co. and the Florida Advertising Association

    A matter of ownership

    Re: The billboard boosters.

    According to the irrationally biased St. Petersburg Times editor, I should willingly give up the income I receive from billboard sign leases without compensation from the local government dictating their removal. I don't think so.

    Real property ownership consists of a bundle of rights and when you take any of those rights, the owner should receive just compensation for their loss. I hope the editor can understand this basic concept of property ownership in America.
    -- Ronald P. Nisk, Clearwater

    Say no to the billboard industry

    Why is it that lawmakers want to give local governments the authority to control their growth management but wants to let the billboard industry establish statewide control over the local billboard laws?

    The answer is simple. Throughout the state, local municipalities are in fact controlling their billboard blight, but the industry doesn't like it. It wants the state to step into the issue and pass laws that will blunt any attempts at the local level to effectively control the billboards in the cities and towns in Florida.

    The industry contributes hundreds of thousands of dollars to campaigns. Now it is asking for payback. Three multibillion-dollar corporations control 90 percent of the billboards in the state. They want millions of Florida taxpayers to fork over millions of dollars just to enrich their own corporate treasuries.

    Tell your city and county officials to complain to Tallahassee. As taxpayers and voters, we deserve our Legislature's support more than those three corporations do. Tell your state representatives that this is a bad deal. Tell the governor that you deserve his support. Its time for payback to the taxpayers.
    -- Wilton Rooks, St. Augustine

    Beach towns get many benefits

    Re: Beach officials' anger is as real as the sand, March 10.

    Having served as one of the beach mayors for 10 years, I must dispute the impression given in Alicia Caldwell's Pinellas Politics column. Not just my town, but most, if not all of the others on the beach, have received a great return from our Tourist Development tax. The sand on the beach is the most expensive and the most obvious. Before the half-cent of the tax was created for "beach management," the towns had to pay for beach nourishment/renourishment. We (mayors) persuaded county commissioners and members of the Convention & Visitors Bureau to include funding for "extraordinary weather events and red tide" recovery. We agreed that routine cleanup was the responsibility of the local authorities (towns). That includes the beach communities of Clearwater and Dunedin as well as those to the south.

    While serving on the Tourist Development Council prior to leaving office last year, I was one of the members who authorized money from the "bed tax" to be used for sand castle competition in Treasure Island. The Gulf Beaches of Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce was the applicant, but I understand that the competition was not held. Mayor Beyrouti, as a board member of the chamber, certainly knows this.

    As for the county paying attention to the beach communities, I was not disappointed in the many thousands of dollars granted to Indian Shores and other beach towns by county programs during my tenure and since. Nature Park, Town Square, Tiki Gardens Beach Access parking are a few in this small town. One of my greatest regrets during that decade was failing to persuade the state of Florida (not the county) to widen and improve Gulf Boulevard.

    Incidentally, "Sand Key," where the football sand sculpture was created, was really the county's Sand Key Park on south Clearwater Beach. Clearwater (including the beach area) is the heaviest contributor to the tourist tax. That tax allows the beaches to be "heavily marketed to tourists" and brings in more taxpayers to enrich our businesses with a track record of eight straight years of growth.
    -- Bob McEwen, former mayor, Indian Shores

    High level skills bring high pay

    Re: A disgraceful imbalance of values, letter, March 9.

    The letter writer astutely notes the vast difference in monetary compensation between the average schoolteacher and star athletes, using the New York Yankee's Derek Jeter as an example.

    While it is emotionally appealing to disparage this difference in salaries, his attempt to blame "self serving owners and corporate moguls . . . and their greed" is misguided.

    Derek Jeter receives his compensation for one key reason: He is one of about three people in the entire country who can do what he does for a living. Outside of Jeter, Boston's Nomar Garciaparra and Texas' Alex Rodriguez, there is no one who can play shortstop in the game of major league baseball at such a high level. If such a person exists, the recruiting offices of the 30 major league clubs will identify him and likely pay him in similar fashion.

    Major league baseball games produce well over a million dollars of revenue for each game played. Derek Jeter is a primary reason for such revenue and he shares in it according to his abilities.

    Meanwhile, literally thousands of schoolteachers graduate each year, and tens of thousands are employed nationwide. There is little doubt that the majority of them expend major efforts in their own callings. But unfortunately, instructing schoolchildren does not currently produce a revenue stream in the millions of dollars per day.

    Detractors of such salary disparities may elect to "quit" and no longer attend sporting events or support related advertisers and enterprises. But that will do nothing to change the salaries of today's hard working schoolteachers. It would be far more educational to our children and to others to recognize and respect basic economics, instead of irrationally attacking sports owners and players.
    -- Stephen Heath, Clearwater

    Livestock lessons

    In her column Living, dying, losing, learning and winning regarding the young lady and Gasket, the unfortunate pig, Mary Jo Melone alludes to lessons learned.

    A lesson for us all is that to produce one pound of meat eight to 10 times more land and energy are needed than to produce one pound of grain or vegetable. Also, livestock agriculture requires enormous amounts of water, creating shortages, flooding and contamination of the supply (no small concern, considering Florida's long drought.)

    Perhaps a lesson regarding compassion is also in order. The slaughterhouse is a cruel, chaotic, bloody and messy place where there is no room for pettings, oranges or animal crackers. The deconstruction of a sentient creature into neatly wrapped packages of flesh is not accomplished without great suffering.

    However, it seems that Gasket's young owner did indeed learn a lesson regarding the price of friendship -- $3 a pound.
    -- Elizabeth A. Van Atta, Tampa

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