Major Ayoub’s Town Hall: Water Bills, Closing Main Street, Curbside Library

in city hall/news

A virtual Safety Harbor town hall meeting Saturday had citizens commenting about opening parks, resuming city services, and closing off Main Street to allow more outdoor dining at restaurants.

And a few complained about unusually high water bills.

Mayor Joe Ayoub, Fire Chief Josh Stefancic and City Manager Matt Spoor gave updates on how the city is dealing with the safe-at-home measures that closed many businesses and services during April in an effort to slow the COVID-19 pandemic.

Also closed are City Hall and other city buildings such as the Safety Harbor Community Center, the Safety Harbor Museum, and Rigsby Recreation Center. And those are not likely to reopen until June 1, said Spoor.

Also closed are all parks, including the skateboard park, playgrounds, basketball courts and baseball fields. These may be reopened sooner than June 1, Spoor said. It depends on what the state and county officials do so there is no timeline,

Spoor noted that yard waste and bulk trash pick-up resumes on Monday.

He urged the public to be patient because the city has a limited sanitation staff and it may take a day or two to collect it. “We’re going to keep running as many yard waste crews as possible until we get it all picked up,” he said.

While the Safety Harbor Library remains closed, the book drop-off boxes will be reopened Monday and a curbside pick-up service should begin on May 11, Spoor said.

“You still won’t be able to go inside the library,” he said. “But you will be able to check out books and pick them up.”

Even though Governor Ron DeSantis’ lastest executive order allows libraries and museums to reopen with limited capacity and social distancing, the libraries in Pinellas County are not prepared to open at this time, Spoor said.

“We are working with our partners in Pinellas County so we all open when ready,” he said. “If one library opens before the others, then they’re going to have a rush of patrons and it would be hard to handle.”

The libraries are preparing for the eventual opening by putting face shields at the counters.

Spoor also said the city recreation staff is back at work planning for summer camps and activities and the city is still considering plans for the Fourth of July celebration.

In anticipation of Monday night’s virtual City Commission meeting, Mayor Ayoub asked for comments on closing off a portion of Main Street to vehicle traffic to make room for increased outdoor dining at restaurants.

Beginning Monday restaurants can reopen for outdoor and inside dining with limited capacity and social distancing. Ayoub said several cities, including Dunedin, are considering closing off streets to traffic.

Most comments were in support of closing off Main Street to help restaurants. James Shaw said his family supports it and asked if Second Street North could also be closed to traffic to help those restaurants.

Ayoub said that would interfere with the north/south flow of emergency vehicles and there are not as many open parking spaces on Second or Third streets that restaurants could use.

Another resident, Debbie Ollerman, commented that she didn’t think Main Street should be closed off while Diane Castillo said local restaurants need our support.

Greg Soulliere was among several residents who complained about higher than usual water bills.

City Manager Spoor said that recent social media posts about high water bills had prompt the city to re-read many household water meters and all but two were correct. He said water use in the city was up last month all through the city because more people are at home, more are cooking, more are taking showers and so there is more usage.

But more comments came in about higher than normal bills. One woman said her bill was doubled. Another woman said that her water bill quadrupled and there are only two people in her home.

To see the entire town hall meeting go to Mayor Joe Ayoub’s Facebook page.

Walt spent 35 years as a reporter, feature writer. TV critic and columnist for The Tampa Tribune. Prior to that he worked in the public relations office at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and as a reporter for The Greenville (SC) News. He and his wife, Debbie, have lived in Safety Harbor for 10 years. He also taught media writing courses at the University of Tampa. Since moving here, he has been active with the Safety Harbor Art and Music Center, hosting a monthly storytelling night.