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Sunday, Sep 21, 2014

Commissioners poised to order removal of benches

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PLANT CITY More than 40 concrete and wood benches may soon disappear from around town.

City commissioners voted July 22 in favor of terminating a decades-old agreement with a Tampa company that sells advertising on the benches and shares the money with a civic club. The commissioners say the benches are rarely used and serve as billboards.

"They are really there to make money on advertising," Commissioner Billy Keel said. "I've yet to see one person sitting on these benches."

The commissioners asked City Attorney Ken Buchman to draw up a resolution terminating the city's agreement with Metropolitan Systems Inc. and will consider the resolution at their Aug. 12 meeting.

If the commissioners adopt the resolution, Metropolitan will have 30 days to remove the 43 benches, Buchman said.

Commissioners Keel, Rick Lott and Mike Sparkman and Mayor Mary Mathis were unanimous in their opposition to the benches. Commissioner Bill Dodson is recovering from heart surgery and didn't attend the meeting when the benches were discussed.

Andrew Moos, who coordinates the benches statewide for Metropolitan, said he was unaware the city commissioners had voted to terminate the agreement. He said he had provided the city with information about his company's Plant City benches and hoped to meet with city leaders to discuss the situation.

The agreement with Metropolitan was adopted April 10, 1978, and allowed the company to install and maintain benches. The company at the time shared advertising revenue with the Plant City Jaycees.

The Plant City Lions Club later took over as the official charity sponsor of the benches. The club has received a total of nearly $15,000 since 2001, according to information the company submitted to the city.

Lions Club treasurer Gail Lyons said the club recently received money from the company, but hadn't for a year or so before that. She said the club would miss the financial support, but it wouldn't have a major impact on the Lions activities as it was a relatively small part of the budget.

Metropolitan charges its advertisers $65 to $100 each per month per bench for the service, the company told the city. The bench advertisers range from insurance companies to a church. The benches are along such heavily traveled roads as Alexander Street, James L. Redman Parkway and Park Road.

Keel said "no one in the right mind" would sit in some of the benches along Alexander because of their proximity to the roadway."

He said he would consider new benches should the city ever again have publicly owned bus service. Public transit was offered from 2001 to 2008, when commissioners shut it down for lack of riders.

Twitter: @dnicholsonTrib

dnicholson@tampatrib.com

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