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Beach mayors cite threat of erosion of autonomy | Beaches

MADEIRA BEACH — The state legislature is eroding the self-governing powers of beach communities in Pinellas County as they deal with the effects of short-term rentals in their neighborhoods.

That was the consensus of six beach mayors as they gathered April 14 for a “State of the Beaches” town hall, presented by the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions at St. Petersburg College.

The self-rule dispute with Tallahassee was one of many issues the mayors were united on, including dealing with the effects of red tide and tidal flooding and residents’ complaints about ongoing development.

Redington Beach Mayor David Will noted that his town is all-residential and “transient tenancy is a hot issue” in his community.

Problematic transient rentals are often owned by people from out of state, St. Pete Beach Mayor Al Johnson said, adding that the lack of a rule of origin is “ruining a person’s quality of life.” out-of-town investor.

Tyler Payne, Mayor of Treasure Island, said towns in Pinellas County were suffering from the erosion of the domestic regime because the state felt it had to step in and deal with problems caused by municipalities and counties in the south Florida.

Madeira Beach Mayor John Hendricks echoed the sentiment of other mayors when he said there was so much to do; he wanted residents to realize that if cities don’t generate revenue through managed growth, tourism, business and development, the only other way is to raise ad valorem taxes.

“We need to generate revenue, some people have moved to heaven and kind of expect us to lift the drawbridge and not let anyone else in,” he said. One of the main concerns is traffic in a tourist area. “People who moved here expected traffic not to move to the wrong area,” he added.

“It’s a balancing act,” Johnson said, “between being a Gulf Coast beach town and an internationally renowned tourist destination.”

Payne said his city is keeping an open mind toward development, “because that’s how we’re going to increase the tax base, so residents don’t carry the burden of funding services, but we don’t have to be like Clearwater”.

The mayors agreed that much of their capital budget was spent on infrastructure needs, improving stormwater systems and adding expensive equipment to prevent tidal flooding.

Payne and Gulfport Mayor Samuel Henderson noted they were installing living shorelines, rather than expensive seawalls, to help control flooding from storm surges, while Redington Beach and St. Pete Beach were busy installing control values ​​and deflector boxes in their sewer system to stop tidal flooding. to come to the streets.

Johnson said his city is taking a different approach to stormwater and sunny day flooding caused by high tides by “focusing on saltwater protection.” The city is upgrading its drainage systems with baffle boxes and control values. Redington Beach is currently beginning much the same process to control tidal flooding as St. Pete Beach.

While beach towns would love to see another Army Corps of Engineers renovation project, a big problem at Madeira Beach is tidal silt and sand flowing into Johns Pass and Blind Pass, clogging the waterway and undermining the attraction of the city promenade. Mayor Hendricks explained that Johns Pass was so banked that storm waves and sand were dragging under the Johns Pass boardwalk.

Redington Shores Mayor Marybeth Henderson echoed another issue affecting all beaches is “red tide and how are we going to deal with it”. She noted that with rising property values, cities don’t have to increase their mileage rates, but added that she wasn’t sure how long that might continue.

Madeira Beach Mayor Hendricks noted that, more than hurricanes, he’s worried about dealing with red tide and COVID-19 because “we’re a tourist destination.” He noted that visitor parking on Madeira Beach represents about $2 million in revenue for his city.

The mayor of Madeira Beach said another issue is the misinformation some people have been spreading about a developer’s attempt to build a seven-story hotel that would include two health care facilities. Often residents oppose development projects that add taxpayer money to city coffers, he said.

Teresa R. Cabrera

The author Teresa R. Cabrera