TARPON SPRINGS — When Mayor Chris Alahouzos learned that more than $800,000 in state funding earmarked for the Anclote River Dredge Project had been cut from the budget by Gov. Ron DeSantis, he knew the city would have to come up with alternative means to pay for the Extended Turning Basin portion of the project.
“I feel sick right now,” Alahouzos said soon after receiving the news from state Rep. Chris Sprowls on June 29. “But we have to go to plan B.”
The mayor said he planned to ask his fellow commissioners to use Penny for Pinellas sales tax funds that had been set aside by City Manager Mark LeCouris to cover the $812,000 earmarked for the project.
“I’m going to encourage my commission colleagues to vote to approve funding for this so the project can move forward, because it’s so important not just to the economy of Tarpon Springs, but all of Pinellas County,” he said.
During the July 14 Board of Commissioners meeting, Alahouzos followed up on that pledge.
“In regard to the funding, even though representatives Chris Sprowls, Chris Latvala and Sen. Ed Hooper worked so hard for us, our item was actually vetoed by the governor,” he said when the agenda item was read. “But we are fortunate we’ve got the Penny for Pinellas, and I’d like to encourage my commissioners to support that and to use the Penny for Pinellas funds.”
The other four commissioners expressed unanimous support for the mayor’s proposal and agreed to sign a letter to the County Commission requesting additional financial assistance.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Vice-Mayor Jacob Karr said. “The city residents pay over $9.3 million … in ad valorem taxes to the county each year and I think the county can help us out with this.”
Prior to approving those items, commissioners received some good news about the dredge project from Project Administration Department Director Bob Robertson, who said after working with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to finalize the size of the turning basin area to be dredged, the DEP agreed that 1.93 acres “would most likely be an acceptable dredge area based on written feedback they’ve provided to us previously.”
After noting the DEP had recommended covering only 1.43 acres prior to a plea from Sprowls to the secretary of the agency, Alahouzos said he agreed to the larger area.
“It’s not as good as what we requested at the very beginning, 3.19 (acres),” the mayor said. “But it’s not as bad as what they offered to us, 1.43 (acres). So, we need to move forward with that.”
After the meeting, the mayor spoke about the recent dredge developments.
“When we found out the governor vetoed the item, I spoke to Pinellas County Commissioner Dave Eggers, who represents the North Pinellas area, and he was upset,” Alahouzos said. “I said we’re going to pay for it with Penny for Pinellas funds, but I’d like to see the county to help us out with that and he said absolutely. So, we’re going to send a letter to the commission, and he’s going to champion our efforts.”
According to the mayor, the city could cover the cost to dredge the basin with Penny for Pinellas funds because LeCouris had “set the money aside just in case the state funding didn’t come through,” meaning the project will get done “regardless of what happens” with the request for additional funding.
“But we want the county to partner with us because the dredge is for all of Pinellas County,” Alahouzos said, noting the county provided the initial $300,000 that got the project started. “They helped us once and now we’re looking for their help again.”
For his part, Eggers recently agreed to do whatever he could to help.
“I told him come to us, talk to us about what that next step is because I think it’s really important,” Eggers said earlier this month during a Zoom call hosted by Oldsmar Realtor Quyen Trujillo. “It’s an important port and we’ve got to do what we can to keep it open, so I am going to work hard to see if we can find some added funding somewhere to address that.