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City officials approve budget amid housing, stadium concerns

Mark Parker



St. Petersburg City Councilmember are already discussing their upcoming budget priorities. A recently proposed program could increase public involvement. Photo by Bill DeYoung.

St. Petersburg property owners will see lower tax rates amid increased valuations; however, city-provided utility bills will increase, and many residents remain concerned over budget allocations.

The 2024 budget’s millage rate reduction from 6.535 to 6.4675 will still net the city an additional $19.94 million in ad valorem revenue due to a citywide 12.36% property value increase. Some public speakers at the Sept. 28 final budget hearing said that would benefit non-local property owners and those able to afford the increasing cost of living.

The average resident’s monthly utility bill – sanitation and potable, waste, storm and reclaimed water services – will increase by about $14 to $16.50, depending on their stormwater tier. The city council approved the rate changes, effective Oct. 1, and an $835.25 million operating budget by a 7-1 vote.

“A budget is a value statement for our city,” said Councilmember Ed Montanari. “And nobody gets everything that they want. But you look at the priorities that we have – public safety is number one.”

A graphic highlighting 2024 operating budget expenditures. Screengrab.

City officials dedicated $191.63 million to public safety expenses or 52.6% of general fund expenditures. Government services received $71.5 million, and officials allocated $61.97 million to community enrichment services.

Wages and benefits, at $241.4 million, accounted for 66.2% of those expenditures. City officials dedicated $8.12 million to grants and aid.

Several public speakers expressed frustration with affordable and workforce housing projects receiving just $750,000. However, Councilmember Deborah Figgs-Sanders explained that was just one aspect of Mayor Ken Welch’s Housing Opportunities for All program.

“Housing does not just come from one pot, but we’re focusing on that,” Figgs-Sanders said. “There’s a process and a policy to everything that we do. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to me all the time while I’m sitting here, but I don’t want anyone to think that we don’t hear you.”

According to a subsequent city release, funding for housing initiatives includes:

  • Affordable housing land acquisition – $1.75 million
  • Capital improvement program projects – $750,000
  • Social action grants – $700,000
  • Rapid Rehousing – $400,000
  • Childhood Homelessness Project – $260,000
  • Pinellas Safe Harbor (homeless services) – $150,000
  • Pinellas Hope (homeless services) – $150,000
  • Vincent de Paul (homeless services) – $148,633
  • West Care Turning Point (homeless and substance abuse services) – $125,000
  • Citywide eviction diversion program – $100,000
  • Neighborly Care Network (Meals on Wheels) – $100,000
  • Pinellas Homeless Leadership Alliance – $25,000

Multiple public speakers also expressed displeasure with public subsidies funding a new Tampa Bay Rays stadium. However, that was not part of the budget discussion, and Welch previously stated that money would not come from the city’s general fund.

Council Chair Brandi Gabbard instructed residents to only comment on the budget. Administrators did include a $1 million contingency for the Historic Gas Plant District redevelopment.

City Administrator Rob Gerdes explained that would likely cover personnel costs, including a contract renewal with outside attorneys, consultant fees and hiring an owner’s representative. Bishop Manuel Sykes, an outspoken critic of the redevelopment process, asked if the city would pay local community stakeholders to provide feedback.

Gabbard said the council would discuss the redevelopment at upcoming public meetings. City Attorney Jackie Kovilaritch said the forum was “not a ‘Q and A.’”

Figgs-Sanders noted that residents had myriad opportunities to ask questions or voice concerns throughout the nearly year-long budgeting process. “The doors of all of my colleagues are always open,” she said. “I know mine is.”

“You will get further with having a council member championing some of your needs than you do speaking once or twice a year about a budget that’s pretty much already said and done …”

A graphic showing how local leaders allocate property taxes. Screengrab.

While the millage rate represents a decrease from current levels, it is 9.34% higher than the rollback rate. Many residents will still see a higher tax bill due to increased property values.

Liz Makofske, budget director, said nearly $20 million in additional ad valorem revenue would allow administrators to increase wages for all city employees. St. Petersburg Fire Rescue also received funding to hire five new cadets and six firefighter/paramedics.

Local leaders dedicated $400,000 to the Community Assistance and Life Liaison (CALL) initiative for two additional staffers, a supervisor and extended service hours. The police department’s $147.5 million budget includes $1.45 million for its body camera program.

Several arts initiatives received funding, including $500,000 for the Arts Grants program; $107,000 for the Woodson African American Museum of Florida; $100,00 for the Arts Plaza planning project and the Florida Orchestra; $87,000 for the St. Petersburg Museum of History; and $50,000 for the Arts Conservatory for Teens.

The budget also includes $17.9 million for water distribution system improvements. Councilmember Richie Floyd – the only person to vote against the budget and rate changes – reiterated his stance that city officials could lower the cost of living “without lowering taxes on out-of-town corporate property owners.”

“I think lowering utility rate increases instead of the millage rate would have been more effective,” Floyd added. “I look forward to continuing that discussion going forward.”


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  1. Avatar

    Cole Brantley

    October 3, 2023at8:48 am

    As a constituent in Richie Floyd’s district I applaud his vote against the budget for his exact reasons stated. The city continues to reward corporate property owners while increasing the costs for actual local citizens. We see the utility rate increases that cancel out any millage rate decreases. It’s a bait and switch that only Richie Floyd seems to see through on our city council. Who pays those higher utility rates? Not the corporate property owner, but it’s renters and the local owners who actually live here.

  2. Avatar

    Ryan Todd

    October 2, 2023at10:29 pm

    Welch may not be dedicating city funds to the new Trop, but residents will pay for it. Get ready for those obscene property value assessments from the county if that project gets built. Property tax increases really hurt long-term residents the most – you have to pay taxes on an unrealized gain every year.

    I’m happy to read that citizens are speaking out against the Rays’ raid of our tax dollars and hope the fight against Welch and the new Trop gains traction.

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