Recently we have been hearing about this supposed “need” to spend what could amount to tens of millions of tax dollars to dredge our saltwater canals. This is mainly being driven by a local City Council candidate and two-time former mayor candidate, Alan Lowe. Arter reading his recent letter to the editor, “How and why to maintain the canals now,” I am struggling to find the “how" or, more importantly, the “why.”
The one “why” he states, is that “the canals create some of the highest revenue generated via property tax.” A debatable statement. So I guess Mr. Lowe is suggesting that without dredging the saltwater canals surrounding property values would somehow plummet and we would lose revenue? The answer to that is, no, that would not happen. The limited number of properties competing with high demand for water views and privacy are the main drivers of those values, and that will not change whether dredged or not. Or is he suggesting that community needs should be prioritized simply by the level one pays in property taxes?
The second “why” he states is that canals are the “oldest, biggest, most profitable and most enjoyed amenity.” Are they the ”oldest amenity?” The Palm Harbor Golf Course’s first nine holes opened in 1971. The “plug” was pulled to open the first finger canals in 1976. Are they the “most profitable?” What is this “profit” being generated that benefits all residents? Property taxes? That is simply revenue, and adding an expense that could exceed that revenue then makes them simply an expense to the community.
The city receives only about 23% of the property taxes paid by owners. Most of our taxes go to the county and schools. Yet the city handles our improvements and maintenance of our infrastructure within city limits, our amenities, and most of our services. Remarkably, the city has done so without carrying municipal debt.
How has the city accomplished this since incorporation in 1999 while providing the many improvements in infrastructure and services? The answer is by strategically investing limited-use dollars, such as park funds, into attractions that bring visitors who spend locally and generate millions in sales tax revenue — sales tax dollars that can be invested back into the community for things like infrastructure improvements that benefit all. Examples are the splash pad at James F. Holland Memorial Park that attracts out-of-towners, the baseball fields at Indian Trails Sports Complex that attracts regional and state level Little League tournaments, the improvements at Waterfront Park which will attract rowing competition and an off-season destination for rowing teams to train across the country, the plans to expand the Tennis Center to attract regional amateur tennis and pickleball tournaments bringing out-of-town players and their families, etc.
Concerning “how” to pay for the dredging, I looked through Mr. Lowe’s letter only to find that “I [Alan Lowe] believe there are ways to fund this maintenance without a tax increase on residents.” That’s it. His “belief.” Who needs specifics when suggesting a supposed “large scale” problem that could require tens of millions in expense?
The truth is that saltwater canal maintenance is not a line item on the budget because it is not necessary and there are far greater priorities. Take stormwater drainage, for example. Dredging the saltwater canals does not improve stormwater drainage. The drains themselves and infrastructure to route the stormwater to the canals are important, but dredging would change nothing.
Regarding stormwater drainage, what our council should be focused on is adding swale maintenance crews and equipment. There are currently two crews that can accomplish about 12.5 miles each per year for a combined 25 miles of scheduled maintenance, which does not include other problems which naturally come up.
Spending tens of millions of dollars on dredging would waste those valuable funds that could be invested into actual revenue generators that benefit all and not something that is just an “enjoyment” for some. If this is truly the huge “problem” Mr. Lowe claims it is, then the most responsible solution is to create a special taxing district for those properties to pay for the maintenance. This would provide for his “enjoyment” without burdening the rest of the community and taking away from important needs that benefit all.
Brad M. West