Connect with us

Thrive

City Council hears Welch’s first budget as mayor

Mark Parker

Published

on

Mayor Ken Welch, shown here speaking at the grand opening of the Hub in March, recently unveiled his first preliminary budget to the St. Petersburg City Council. Photo by Mark Parker.

For over eight hours Tuesday, St. Petersburg City Council members discussed the city’s fiscal year 2023 (FY23) operating budget – Mayor Ken Welch’s first – which includes $324.3 million in projected general fund revenues with $326.4 million in projected expenditures.

While those figures result in a preliminary general fund budget gap of $2.1 million, the city’s background documents noted a higher projected gap of $3.6 million at this point last year. Per Florida Statute, the city administration balanced the FY22 budget, and the document states it will balance the FY23 budget before Welch submits the final proposal to city council on July 15.

Tome Greene, assistant city administrator, told the committee of the whole that the presentation signified a milestone for one of his organization’s highest priorities. Following an FY23 budget overview, leadership from each of the city’s departments led a more detailed discussion on their respective financial plans. Before diving into the details, Greene said he wanted to share some overarching concepts with the council members.

“First and foremost, Mayor Welch’s principles for accountable and responsive government and pillars for progress have been incorporated into our budget process,” said Greene. “Our city team has really embraced this vision and worked tirelessly to incorporate those concepts into the FY23 budget so that we reflect that vision of opportunity for all.”

Greene said it was obvious, but budgets are all about priorities. He added that city administrators must make difficult decisions to balance their finances every year, and the needs continuously outweigh available resources.

“I’m certain that by the time we get to the end of September, we’ll all be in the same place and be in agreement – as to the highest priorities for our organization,” he said.

A chart breaking down the city’s expenditures in the proposed FY23 general fund budget. Screengrab.

Housing

In a nearly five-page letter to the city council that preceded the meeting, Welch outlined his FY23 budget priorities, starting with housing. He said his administration is creating an Opportunity Agenda for Housing which expands and updates a 10-year strategy established in FY20. He said the plan would increase the supply of affordable and market-rate multi-family housing, single-family housing and accessory dwelling units.

While not included in the city’s budget, Welch noted that the city allocated $34 million, or roughly 76%, of American Rescue Plan Act funds to address the housing crisis. Greene said the federal money would fund projects like the proposed townhome development along 22nd Street South (the Deuces).

Welch wrote that he included $7.4 million in the Housing and Community Development’s operating budget. Additionally, the city’s capital improvement plan (CIP) budget includes $8.5 million in Penny for Pinellas funding for affordable housing land acquisition. The preliminary budget also includes $2.1 million to address homelessness through 10 programs.

“Solving this challenge is complex and requires a combination of immediate action, ongoing policy consideration and long-term vision,” wrote Welch.

Environment, infrastructure and resilience

As a coastal city, Welch said, climate change and sea-level rise pose an acute risk to St. Petersburg. He said his administration uses facts, data and science to form policies that ensure both immediate action and long-term sustainability.

Most funding for environmental efforts and infrastructure projects occurs within the CIP’s $114.46 million total budget. The city is allocating $1.3 million for energy efficiency at the Water Resources Administration Building, $500,000 for stormwater system enhancements, $576,000 for 12 hybrid police cruisers, and $100,000 to upgrade lighting at city parks.

Notable infrastructure project funding includes $23.65 million for sewer collection system enhancements, $4.13 million to construct a new Fire Station 2 and $1.3 million for seawall renovation and replacement.

A chart showing the city’s expected revenues for the FY23 general fund budget. Screengrab.

Equitable arts, development and business opportunities

“My administration is laser-focused on ensuring intentional equity in all of our policies, decisions and actions,” wrote Welch to the city council. “We are a city that loves the arts, knows that development must benefit all and believes everyone should have access to business opportunity.”

Welch mentioned the Tropicana Field redevelopment and the economic and community impact study of Albert Whitted Airport as examples of his administration ensuring that new and existing developments benefit and meet the needs of all residents and visitors. He also noted the FY23 budget includes funding for a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer and support staff.

Following recommendations from the city’s Disparity Study, Welch also included funding to create four full-time positions in the Procurement and Supply Management Department. Strategic initiative funding includes $500,000 for small business programs, $270,000 for the Grow Smarter Economic and Workforce Development program, $150,000 for the St. Petersburg Economic Development Corporation and $96,000 for the Greenhouse.

Other budgeted development investments include $300,000 in corporate relocation & expansion grants and $220,000 for the city’s four Main Street business organizations.

“And, of course, we are a city of the arts,” said Welch. “We must continue to support our arts community, grow its quality and presence and provide unique opportunities for locals and businesses alike.”

Welch increased funding for the city’s Arts Grants Program by $50,000 over last year’s budget to $455,000. This year’s budget includes $100,500 for the Carter G. Woodson African American Museum of Florida, $100,000 for the Florida Orchestra and $75,000 for the second year of a three-year commitment for the University of South Florida Graphic Studio expansion.

Neighborhood health and safety

Welch noted public safety is a common priority for any administration, and with good reason. He expanded on that view to include health and shift the focus to the neighborhood level.

“Our city is diverse, and we must recognize that health and safety needs can be vastly different from one neighborhood to the next,” wrote Welch. “This neighborhood approach allows city leaders to be intentional in their planning and allocation of resources.”

Out of the $171.9 million budgeted in the general fund for public safety, the city allocated $130.6 million for the St. Petersburg Police Department. The Fire-Rescue Department’s budget is $41.3 million, with an additional $19.56 million for the Emergency Medical Services fund.

Welch included $1.3 million in the SPPD budget to continue the Community Assistance and Life Liaison (CALL) program and $1.45 million to provide body-worn cameras for the police force. The budget also includes mental health services funding for all public safety employees and their direct family members.

Welch said health residents are vital to the city’s success, and he allocated $688,656 for the Healthy St. Pete initiative. The program operates under the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.

“This budget begins our journey to making St. Petersburg a diverse, vibrant city that is guided by principled progress and intentional inclusivity where innovation, partnerships and ingenuity create opportunity for all,” concluded Welch. “This preliminary budget is just the start, and I look forward to continuing this journey over the length of my term as mayor.”

According to the city’s schedule, residents may participate in an FY23 budget open house at City Hall May 16 at 6 p.m. For more information or to attend virtually, visit the link here. The mayor is scheduled to submit the final budget proposal to the city council on July 15.

 

Continue Reading
2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    John Donovan

    May 4, 2022at5:58 pm

    Can we get a story on the trend in revenue to the city? It must be a very large increase based on real estate values. Why does no one want to talk about this? Maybe because it might suggest we should lower taxes? Or should we simply spend every dime that comes in, no matter what? Where is the independent news media?

  2. Avatar

    Naz Merchant

    May 5, 2022at7:16 pm

    Perhaps the charts could be updated with images that are more readable and informative? The text is blurry and many large sections in the pie chart are unlabeled. Makes processing the numbers in the article much easier!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

By posting a comment, I have read, understand and agree to the Posting Guidelines.

The St. Pete Catalyst

The Catalyst honors its name by aggregating & curating the sparks that propel the St Pete engine.  It is a modern news platform, powered by community sourced content and augmented with directed coverage.  Bring your news, your perspective and your spark to the St Pete Catalyst and take your seat at the table.

Email us: spark@stpetecatalyst.com

Subscribe for Free

Share with friend

Enter the details of the person you want to share this article with.