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Harbor Commission To Consider Fireworks Options

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The Safety Harbor City Commissioners are looking at options for the city’s 4th of July celebration, including canceling the annual fireworks show at the Waterfront Park and Marina because of the COVID-19 virus threat.

The 20-minute fireworks display has drawn around 10,000 spectators, according to city officials. Such gatherings are not allowed under current state-mandated guidelines in Governor Ron DeSantis’ Phase 1 of reopening the state in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The governor has not announced when Phase 2 would begin which might allow for large venue events but with limited capacity (50 percent or less).

The city’s contract with the fireworks vendor is due to be signed by Tuesday, June 2. And numerous Florida cities, including Clearwater, Tarpon Springs, Gulfport and Sarasota, have already canceled their fireworks shows.

After reviewing event logistics and information, the city staff offered the following options for consideration at the meeting set for Monday night.

1, Host a full event with vendors, entertainment and fireworks display. Concerns include managing density, social distancing enforcement, and sufficient personnel for crowd management.

2. Host a fireworks only show. Concerns include managing venue closings and sufficient personnel to keep people away.

3. Postpone the fireworks display to an alternate date.

4. Cancel the event.

Even though Safety Harbor City Hall is expected to be opened again by Monday, the commission meeting with be virtual, using Zoom technology.

Also on the agenda is a presentation by the Safety Harbor Fire Department on the upcoming hurricane season and further discussion on providing some kind of aid to city businesses or residents impacted by the COVID-19 shutdown.

Commissioners have been discussing giving aid since early April but have not settled on who, what, how or how much, although they have expressed willingness to spent $200,000 to $300,000 from a General Reserve Fund.

The most recent proposals involve giving $1,000 grants to small businesses to cover rent, mortgage or utility costs to those eligible (an estimated 200 potential businesses). Another proposal would grant $200 to $300 utility credits to low income individuals who would qualify.

For more information go to http://www.cityofsafetyharbor.com

City Facilities Slowly Reopen Street Closures, Aid Debated

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The City of Safety Harbor plans to slowly open city-run facilities that have been closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic with the goal of having city hall and the Safety Harbor Public Library open by June 1. 

The city pier and waterfront boardwalks were opened over the weekend, and the fitness center in the Safety Harbor Community Center could open next week, said City Manager Matt Spoor during the Monday night city commission meeting. 

He said these facilities will be opened under Center for Disease Control guidelines that include social distancing and limited capacity.  Face shields to protect employees are being installed. Spoor said that the city needs to careful about letting the public know about openings to avoid a rush or crowd that couldn’t be handled. 

There was a lot of discussion, but no action taken on offering financial aid to people and/or businesses hurt by COVID-19 closure.  

Also, no action was taken on Mayor Joe Ayoub’s proposal to close off a portion of Main Street to vehicle traffic to make room for expanded outdoor dining at restaurants for at least the next two weekends.  

Ayoub said Spoor had been in contact with several restaurants in town and the majority were in favor of the closures, even restaurants that would not be in area that might be closed off. 

Commissioner Carlos Diaz said that while he is skeptical about the benefits from doing this, he favored giving it a try.   

Commissioner Cliff Merz said he is concerned about what might happen if weekend closures created a “3rd Friday” festival atmosphere and drew crowds. “COVID is still with us and will be with us,” he said. “And the reason that it’s at the level is it now is because of the protections that were in place, so things are slowly opening, and we’ll see how that works.”  

He said it might work if the restaurants required reservations and customers came in an orderly fashion but if it became a “big collection of people” and it was up to law enforcement to break it up then that would not be the right approach.   Commissioners Andy Zudrow and Nancy Besore also expressed concerns about potential crowding. 

After a lengthy discussion among commissioners on what kind of financial aid to give to those impacted by COVID-19 with nothing settled on, Mayor Ayoub asked the city manager to gather more information on costs and administration of giving utility discounts of $1,000 to businesses that qualify and at least $100 to individuals that qualify.   

This information may be presented at the June 1 commission meeting. 

In other action, commissioners approved $62,500 for the installation of a 20-foot gazebo/gathering place for the Folly Farm city park. There were some objections from the public over spending these funds while some citizens are in financial need due to the pandemic. 

The mayor and city commissioners pointed out that this money is from capital improvement funds that can’t be spent on social-help programs.  The gazebo was a gift to the city from George Weiss who also donated the Folly Farm park land. He donated $25,000 for the gazebo in 2019 and its been in storage.  

The $62,500 was the lowest of three bids for land preparation, grading, concrete slab, gazebo assembly, electrical work, paved patio and other site work. 

County Program to Aid Small Business Off to Fast Start

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Signs posted by Safety Harbor Gifts and Antique on March 22, 2020 signal the impact of the coronavirus on local businesses. (Photo/Kathryn Malaxos)

More than 2200 applications for $5,000 grants to help small businesses in Pinellas County were filed when the program kicked off on Monday, according to Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton.

Burton reported to Commissioners at their Tuesday morning meeting that the program is moving forward smoothly with grant money going out soon.

The Pinellas County Commission has set aside $35 million to help “brick and mortar” businesses with fewer than 25 employees that suffered losses due to closure or cutbacks in service because of the COVID-19 virus.

The county estimates there are more than 6000 small Pinellas businesses, including many in Safety Harbor, that could qualify for a Pinellas Cares Small Business grant of $5,000 to cover things like employee wages, vendor bills and rent.

The goal is to get the grants awarded within 10 days. Burton said this is the first phase of a relief program that runs through June 1.

In the second phase, the program will be re-evaluated, and there may be funds awarded to businesses that are home-based, he said.

Pinellas County has $170 million grant to cover the small business grants and the Pinellas CARES Financial Assistance which is providing emergency payments up to $4,000 to help low-income families and individuals who have lost income during the COVID-19 crisis and cannot pay utility bills or housing costs.

Burton said Tuesday that over 5300 calls were received Monday for the Financial Assistance grants to individuals seeking aid.

To begin the process of determining eligibility, people can text “COVIDCARES” to 898211.  If they qualify, the money is paid directly to landlords, mortgage holders and/or utility companies.

Small business owners can get all the details about the business grant program and begin the process for obtaining the $5,000 grants by first going to https://covid19.pinellascounty.org/pinellascaresbusiness/

City Aid on Hold for Safety Harbor Businesses

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BarFly, minus outdoor seating, on April 1, 2020. (Photo/Kathryn Malaxos)

The Safety Harbor Mayor and City Commissioners say they want to offer financial help to local businesses hurt by the recent temporary closure enforced to slow the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the Monday night virtual meeting, commissioners indicated the city is willing to invest more than $200,000 to provide aid.

But they don’t have a program yet, and it won’t be coming until after the May 18 meeting. Although commissioners mentioned restaurants, the types of businesses where the vouchers could be used was not determined. Also not determined was whether the utility credits would be for businesses or for businesses and households.

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Safety Harbor City Commission Goes Virtual Again Tonight

in city hall/news

SAFETY HARBOR – Safety Harbor city commissioners will explore how the city can help local businesses at a virtual meeting set for 7 tonight. 

During the April 20 meeting, there was discussion about giving relief to local businesses effected by the recent “safe-at-home” action to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. 

Some businesses can reopen today with limited capacity and social distancing in place. 

One program, suggested at the last meeting, would involve giving $25 vouchers to the 6,950 households in the city. These vouchers could only be used at local businesses. Another program could offer $1,000 grants to the estimated 185 small businesses in the city.  

Among other items on the agenda: approval of the 2021 Art & Seafood Festival at the Waterfront Park planned for February, selection of three beneficiaries for the 2020 Wine Festival planned for November, appointment of two members to the Library Advisory Committee, and approval of $30,735 to replace shingle roofs on Safety Harbor city park buildings. 

Residents can participate several ways.  

Call In: Toll-free 877-853-5257. 

 Mobile Device: The Zoom application is available from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. Enter Zoom Meeting ID # 968 6516 4399 

 Web Browser: https://cityofsafetyharbor.zoom.us/j/96865164399 

 City Website: http://www.cityofsafetyharbor.com/557/ 

Streaming-Media Television: Spectrum Channel 638 | WOW! Channel 15 | Frontier Channel 30  

To Offer Public Comment: Email: PComment@cityofsafetyharbor.com  

Emailed comments under 500 words will be read aloud during the meeting, longer emails will be provided to the City Commissioners but will not be read aloud.  

Voice Live During Meeting: “Raise Your Hand” and the host will be notified that you wish to comment, and you will be called on at the appropriate time. Please note that live public comment may only be shared during the associated agenda item or as part of audience to be heard. At all other times, live participants will be on “mute” to minimize background noise and feedback. To Raise Your Hand: – From your telephone touchpad, Press Star (*) and then 9 – From web browser or mobile app, use the “Raise Hand” icon. 

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

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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.

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