Home / Government / Survey says: Should Safety Harbor raise the millage to pay for Baranoff property?

Survey says: Should Safety Harbor raise the millage to pay for Baranoff property?

Safety Harbor officials want to know if residents are in favor of paying $1 million to purchase the Baranoff Oak property, and if so, would they support a temporary millage increase to facilitate the purchase.

Safety Harbor Mayor Joe Ayoub recently released a survey designed to determine two things: should they purchase the Baranoff Oak property at a reported cost of $1 million, and if so, would residents support a temporary millage increase to help facilitate the purchase?

The link was posted on Facebook Thursday morning by Mayor Ayoub, three days after the idea of raising the millage was floated at the end of the Safety Harbor City Commission meeting.

Based on comments made during the discussion Monday night, the SurveyMonkey survey asks two simple questions:

  • Are you in favor of the city purchasing the property on the northeast corner of Main St. and 2nd Avenue where the Baranoff Oak Tree is located for an approximate purchase price of $1 million to turn this piece of property into a park?
  • Do you support a temporary property tax rate increase between $35 and $50 per year per Safety Harbor homeowner for the next three to four years to purchase the Baranoff Oak Tree property?  (note: these figures are based on a home valued at $222K with a taxable value of $147K)

The mayor’s social media post also included an explanation of the situation, complete with details about the proposal:

As you may have heard the City of Safety Harbor does not own the property on on the NE corner of Main St. 2nd Ave. where the Baranoff Oak Tree is located. The city is currently in a joint use agreement with the owners that allows the city to control the section of the property where the tree is located for the next 3-4 years but there is nothing to prevent the owners from building something on the front of the property facing Main St. before the joint use agreement expires.

The city manager and I had a meeting with the property owners several weeks ago to discuss purchasing the property and the city has since entered into negotiations with them. We are likely looking at a purchase price of about $1 million, which is based on a comparable piece of property that recently sold in downtown.

The post continued:

Since the city does not have this factored into our budget I’d like to get your feedback on doing a temporary property tax increase to pay for the property. This is estimated to cost the average household between $35 and $50 a year for the next 3 to 4 years. These numbers are based on a home valued at $222K (median home value in Safety Harbor based on most recent census data) with a taxable value of $147K. Another way to estimate the impact to your property taxes would be to calculate a millage increase of .331 per 1,000 of taxable value for three years (i.e. 400K taxable value times .331 would be an increase of $132 a year for three years). This is the high end of the estimate and the actual increase could be less based on several factors, including how much of our reserves we are willing to spend.

We would be able to make this temporary by passing a resolution that says this portion of the property taxes will be segregated and used solely for the purchase of the property and expire in 3 to 4 years once the property is paid for. This would not impact any other increases or decreases in our ad valorem property tax rate the commission may wish to vote for to sustain our ongoing services and projects.

It concluded by asking citizens to click the link and vote on the survey.

The area containing the historic Baranoff Oak tree in downtown Safety Harbor is comprised of four lots located on the northeast corner of Main Street and Second Avenue North. (Credit: Mayor Joe Ayoub/Facebook)

Since the news broke last month that the owners of the four lots on Main Street and Second Avenue North, PK Properties, had plans to expand the adjacent Safety Harbor Senior Living center, a move that would not result in the removal of the 300-500-year-old tree city but could damage its roots and block its view, officials scrambled to try and come up with a way to protect the tree.

After the City Commission authorized City Manager Matt Spoor to enter negotiations for a potential purchase of the land, Mayor Ayoub said earlier this month that “the owners were actually very receptive to the idea. After years of pushing back and them not wanting to sell, they’ve opened up and they’re now willing to sell the property to the City of Safety Harbor.”

When Spoor reported that the asking price “was in reasonable range” based on comps in the area, the commission was faced with finding a way to come up with the money.

Some suggestions floated on Monday night included using an unallocated portion of the city’s General Fund reserves, roughly $1.5 million, to pay for the property; scrambling to find grant money to help with the purchase; and using Penny For Pinellas funds that have been earmarked for Capital Improvement Projects.

Safety Harbor Mayor Joe Ayoub.

Those ideas were met with various questions and concerns, leading the mayor to inquire about the temporary millage increase.

“It is an expensive piece of property, but it’s got the Baranoff Oak, it’s the last piece of greenspace on Main Street and I would like to see us take some kind of action,” Ayoub said on May 7.

Spoor noted the city could take the money out of reserves to immediately purchase the property and then pay itself back via the proposed increase.

Now, the question is being posed to Safety Harbor residents: are you willing to pay to preserve the tree?

“This is not an official city survey,” Ayoub said by phone on Thursday.

“It’s just my way of gauging how the residents feel about this idea to preserve an iconic downtown landmark.”

Ayoub said the results would be presented at a City Commission meeting later this summer.

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  1. We have already made a sizable investment in this property. Following is an excerpt from an article written in the Tampabay Times dated May 2013.


    Arborists are working to revive what may be the oldest and most treasured tree in Pinellas County after an effort to showcase the majestic Baranoff Oak blocked its ability to get the nutrients it needs to survive.

    Safety Harbor spent $350,000 in 2005 to construct a decorative tribute to the downtown oak, including a parking lot, red brick plaza, statues, a pedestrian walkway and benches where people can sit and admire the thick branches draped with moss.

    But arborists say that well-intentioned project caused the tree to get sick by leaving a relatively small area of unpaved ground where the tree can obtain vital water and nutrients.

    About a dozen arborists and other volunteers will work together this week to undo the damage, hoping to restore the tree’s health. City workers have already begun to peel back some of the brick and remove the statues. Among other tasks, volunteers will spread customized dirt, specially manufactured to give the tree the nutrients it needs. And the city is installing irrigation and lightning protection systems.”

  2. I am not interested in paying any more taxes. This sounds like a completely opportunistic sale by the real estate developer that holds it. They kept refusing to sell year after year to the city. Now only that prices are at historical highs are they willing to sell. This isn’t a developer being nice and offering to “help” the city. This is a business deal.
    I repeat this is a business deal. The city should look in to purchasing the property but at fair market value. AND ONLY IF THEY CAN AFFORD IT. Not over paying simply because we were finally invited to the table.

    If I took a buy high and hold approach I would be out of business. If I can’t pay for an extra lot I don’t buy one. But I don’t have any choice in paying my taxes… If I can’t pay my taxes I get liens with penalties and interest.
    Yes the developer could try to build something directly in front of the tree… But if my memory serves residents will hold people accountable for this. This may actually discount the property because it is difficult to develop in SH directly in front of a historic tree.
    This is the same group who are developing the old dirt parking lot adjacent who already received multiple incentives. Also who currently maintains the tree? The land owner or the city? So we take care of the property for years and then but at a premium? Enough is enough. They are a for profit business. What happens when they decide they can squeeze any more out of senior and want to sell the old hotel? Do we have to buy that too because it is historic and someone might want to do something… I’m shocked they want us to buy the property between their 2 properties and turn it in to a park. Way to do the work for them. Come on.
    How else could we allocate $1M to the city to benefit residents? What better use could that money have? Or hey when is the last time we talked about lowering taxes?? When does that conversation every happen.

    • I hope people with sound minds are listening to you. I agree enough emotion and talk about tax increases.

  3. Absolutely not. Not only is the million dollar price tag absurd, but a tax increase to purchase it? I’m not sure which is more insane. Spending $1,000,000 or believing the tax increase will be temporary. It’s a tree, People.

    • You are not being asked to personally pay $1 million , but are simply being asked to contribute $35 to $50 per year for approximately 3 years. Calling our historic Baranoff Oak Tree just a tree, is like calling the “Mona Lisa” just a painting or the Grand Canyon just a hole in the ground. This is the most historic and famous tree in all of Tampa Bay. This tree is a survivor that has stood here in Safety Harbor more than 300 years It is our obligation to protect this tree for future generations so that they can also enjoy looking in awe at this grand tree and standing in the shade of its magnificent branches.

      • With your flair for passion and melodrama you sound like an actor. Channel that enthusiasm by ponying up with a great big donation as an example to all of us that don’t want a Millage increase. Show up in front of City Hall with me on 3rd Friday. I’ll match up to $200.00 to get the fund going. Listen as little as it may be there are some of us who just don’t have that amount to budget for an emotion.

  4. $35 a year??? People spend more on one meal! I will gladly pay to preserve this magnificent tree, which has become an attraction in our city, with people taking photos and admiring it every day.

  5. Why cant we use just some of the $7.491 million that we have in general fund reserves? This amount is ~50% of our annual general fund budget. City policy, i understand, sets the goal to be 2 months or 16.6% Why are we even discussing higher taxes when we have this sort of dough sitting around? This is a one time expenditure, which is exactly what u should use reserves for, that or paying debt off quicker. Use the surplus. Scott Long said it best actually last year when he took office. I didnt vote for him last month but ill give credit where credit is due and he was exactly correct, we shouldnt be sitting on that much money. If you choose to support this purchase, which im actually very apprehensive about, please use these reserves as the “ways & means” of how to finance it.

  6. I do not think I should be expected to pay for preserving this tree. I do not care about its history either. This sounds like the tree owner is well connected and he can get the town to pay him a million dollars for his tree. No-No-No-No

  7. It seems way overpriced at $1million considering it is a piece of land that can’t be built on or yield a profit. Just able to add a few benches. Get the land but through hard negotiation.

    • The current owners can certainly build on these 4 lots and in fact have plans to expand the Assisted Living Facility onto these lots if the city does not purchase them. These lots are big enough to build a large 3 or 4 story commercial building there. Even if the current owners do not cut down the Baranoff Oak Tree, just building a large commercial building directly in front of the Baranoff Oak Tree will lead to the decline and death of the tree by severely damaging the tree’s root system and stealing the tree’s necessary sunlight.

  8. I think that the free market should determine the fate of the property. Have you ever seen a “temporary tax” go away??

  9. Due to the price tag I would hope negotiations will be thorough. But the bottom line is we, the residents of Safety Harbor, must do what ever it takes to save that historic tree.

  10. Save the tree and surrounding land. The residents and city will not benefit from a concrete jungle. Penny for Pinellas has well been worth it. pinellascounty.org/penny/cities.htm

  11. I don’t know why there needs to be a survey at all on whether or not to purchase the property and save the historical Baranoff Oak tree. This is Safety Harbor’s history, Mayor and Commissioners. The vote should be 5-0 in favor and move on with it. What a “grand” way to celebrate our 101 years of being a city.

  12. I don’t think there is ever a”temporary” tax proposed by politicians. Let the free market determine the outcome of the property or look for a private donor to help purchase it.


  13. I think that the city of Safety Harbor should get there hands on any land that they can get a hold of. .Save the city from the greedy people please. .

  14. Now is the time to preserve what we can that is green and beautiful.
    Talk about a “concrete jungle” we are certainly moving in that direction

  15. It has been noted that a large 3-story building in front of the Baranoff tree could damage it’s root system and potentially kill the tree. What effect will the huge building that will soon be constructed just across the street from the Baranoff tree have on the health of the tree. Anyone know?

    • Andy Zodrow was cornered in one of the city meetings that too many dogs from the three story building might pee on the old oak.

      Anyone ever validate what dog urine might do to a tree? How much dog pee is too much?

    • Think of the tree being upside down under the ground – that is essentially what the root system in general looks like. The roots stretch out as far as the tree’s limbs do, and the majority of the roots are underground, but not as deep as the tree is tall. The new building across the street being built I suspect would have little if any impact on the root system, no more than the current road between the properties. As for dog urine – consider the massiveness of the root system and the soil above it that would absorb, dissipate and dilute the pee from the rain.

  16. Still waiting for someone with definitive knowledge to answer the question… What happens if the property isn’t purchased by the city? Isn’t the Baranoff Oak protected by law so the owner of the property can’t cut it down and build on the land? If the concern is the vacant lot to the south of the Baranoff Oak, wouldn’t the property owner have to get a permit from the city to build on that lot, and therefore the city could require any plans for that lot to include plenty of space so the Baranoff Oak roots are not affected?

    • According to city officials, there is no definitive answer of what could happen to the property if they don’t purchase it. There is no “law” protecting the tree. There is a use agreement in place between the city and the current property owner that prevents doing anything to affect the tree, which expires in the next five years. However, if the land is sold, it’s not clear if that agreement would remain in place. The tree is protected by the city’s Grand Tree Ordinance, and no one is claiming it would ever be torn down. This is more about preserving the space around the tree to ensure its long term health. Yes, permitting would be required to build on the lots in front of the tree, but the root system for the massive, 300-year-old oak stretches far and wide from the base, and the current property owner has stated he would like to expand the SH Senior Living Center that sits adjacent to the front-facing lot. The bottom line, according to officials, is the best way to protect and ensure the long-term health of the Baranoff is for the city to purchase the property and turn the entire space into a passive park.

  17. really ! safety harbor is why I moved here 12 yrs ago why are you people going to destroy this peacefull community where is the sence leave it alone

  18. The value of that property is definitely that much even without the Baranoff Oak. The view of the tree from Main Street across the adjacent lots is a huge part of this town’s charm. It will be even more so with some park amenities on the lots. This would be a good time for those most concerned with saving our trees to step up with a fund raising effort to save The Baranoff Oak. This would not be a good time for them to step back and offer nothing but criticism without offering a viable solution. Lacking a fundraising effort, I fully suppport a mileage increase to make the purchase as long as it has a hard stop once the property is paid for. This is a good time for Smart Growth Safety Harbor and Saving Safety Harbor to bury the hatchet and do what’s right. We won’t find solutions in verbal conflict. We will find solutions in civil discourse.

  19. The city is asking each property owner to pay only about $35 to $50 for a few years to save the historic Baranoff Oak Tree. This is a small amount of money to pay to preserve a tree that has been here since before the United States even became a country. The Baranoff Tree has survived here for centuries and it is our responsibility to save it so that future generations can enjoy its beauty just as we do today.

    • Sue it is not 50dollars a homeowner or this would be no big deal. I will be about 150 a year
      I live in a 3000foot house and will be paying approx 11 thousand a year taxes already. Thats alot for my size house . I pay more than my share of taxes already. There should be a cap for the higher taxed properties.

  20. Yes. I am more than willing to pitch in so that the tree and the lot can be preserved and enjoyed by all in Safety Harbor.

  21. The property isn’t worth that much sounds fishy to me. The property can’t be built on so just let it sit as it is. NO TAXES

    • It is not true that the property cannot be built on. The current owners have an absolute right to develop these four lots that they own. These lots are big enough to build a large 3 or 4 story commercial building. In fact, the owners of these lots currently own the Assisted Living Facility next door. If the city does not purchase these lots, they have plans to expand their facility by building on the lot directly in front of the Baranoff Oak Tree. This will quickly lead to the decline and death of the Baranoff Oak Tree within a few years.
      Also, there is no law that prohibits the owners from cutting down the Baranoff Tree if they decide that they need to remove the tree in order to build on their lots. If you don’t believe this is true, just look at what happened to the old trees that were recently removed on the next lot on Main St. and 2nd. Ave. N.

      • The historic Baranoff oak tree must be saved! It is just as important to preserve the green space surrounding the tree for water and proper nutrients to sustain the vast root system. I love the idea of a city park with benches for visitors of our city to rest in the shade under its mighty branches. The city has already invested funds to preserve this tree with cabling for example, to reinforce the branches, etc. I support the mayor and commission’s recommendation to purchase this property outright. Let’s get it done!

      • I would be in favor of the city purchasing the property. May I suggest this: Let the new tax base from the retail building and future apartment building on Main & Second pay for the Baranoff tree property.

    • Agreed, the YES votes need to leave the WE out of this discussion. I clearly recall the Mayors words about allowing the Rich Group to develop the Freidrich property bringing in section 8 apartments. “They will get used to it.” Just like we get used to the Penny For Pinellas. Once taxed always pay and never only temporary. This is just another way to increase the tax payer burden. Bait and switch, use guilt to promote tax increases. It’s used by the Progressives all the time. The new construction in Safety Harbor is giving the Commissioners more money all the time. Just say the word and I’ll make the first donation, but I expect the WE people to pony up as well. Get it started the next third Friday in front of City Hall. I’ll be there to get my receipt for my cash donation.

      • There is no “bait and switch” to this potential limited millage increase. The increased revenue will be temporary and will go directly to pay for these four lots on which the historic Baranoff Oak Tree is located. Also, the Penny For Pinellas tax is not a permanent “bait and switch” tax, but a temporary tax that goes before the voters every 10 years. In the last election, it was supported by 83% of the voters.

        • I think you missed my point. Has the penny ever gone away? No! It has never expired before another good cause was proposed to continue the tax and that is what I dislike, politicians never wanting let their hooks out of the tax payer. However you might be right about bait and switch, it just never ends once implemented. I guess we’ll find out if we get a chance to vote on this good cause and our neighbors agree to to pay the levy and down the road it expires once paid off. The past several years have taught me to be skeptical of government and politicians like the Mayor. I’ll still be in front of City Hall to make a donation 5/18/18 that will tell me a lot about the motivation for this new tax proposal. After all why borrow money when you can steal it from tax payers. By the way how are you so sure the tax would be temporary? What’s your stake in this? I’m just a home owner that already pays my fair share.

          • The Penny For Pinellas has not gone away because the voters continue to support all of the roads, bridges, bike trails, parks, infrastructure, environmental protection projects, etc., that have greatly benefited all of us in Pinellas County. This minor tax is quite a bargain considering all the benefits that we have received. The same is true for the relatively small amount of money that we are being asked to pay in order to protect our Historic Baranoff Oak Tree and to create another city park downtown. My only stake in all of this is seeing our most historic tree and green space preserved in our increasingly developed downtown.

        • 30-40% of Penny is funded by tourists. So we fund 60-70% of the capital improvements we enjoy 356 days a year. Parks, roads, stormwater, public safety, library, recreation, etc. I would imagine that’s why it was re-approved by 80% of the voters….without which our property taxes would increase a large percentage or our quality of life would decrease substantially. 20% of the voters want their quality of life to suck.

  22. Vote “Yes” to save the magnificent Baranoff Oak Tree. This grand historic tree is the oldest and most beautiful live oak tree in Pinellas County. We cannot let the land around the Baranoff Oak Tree be developed. If a large 3-story building is put in front of the tree, it will severely damage the tree’s root system, steal the tree’s sunshine, and will kill this grand old tree in a only few years.

  23. Agree, we need to save the tree if it can be saved. I had heard it was in danger from metal fencing and sidewalks. Really hate the extensive high rise behind Bar Fly. This might help keep the city from being an the extreme concrete jungle!



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