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Community Voices: Long-term budget planning equals long-term results

Brandi Gabbard

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District 2 Councilmember Brandi Gabbard.

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The process of creating an effective budget for the City of St Petersburg is a year-round exercise that kicks off every January with City Council members sharing with the Mayor their individual priorities for a budget that ultimately, council will approve. The process each council member goes through to create their individual requests vary as much as the members themselves. For me, it has been a process that has evolved over the three years I have been in office. Several weeks before our list is due, I begin to meet with neighborhood associations, union leadership, city partners, city staff, stakeholders and individual residents to put together a list of priorities reflective of our community needs.

For me, this is an opportunity to discuss not only very specific departmental requests with dollar amounts attached, but also philosophical beliefs that I hope will be taken into consideration. After all, regardless of how often it is said budgets reflect our integrity and moral compass as leaders of our city. Rhetoric is just that until it becomes action. Goals for a city are realized through the programs and services we fund and the balancing of departmental budgets accordingly. Every council member understands that approval of a balanced budget is our number one priority and the way we make the most impact on issues of greatest importance to those we serve.

District 2 is a vibrant and unique part of our city. We pride ourselves on being the Gateway for those who are entering St. Petersburg from surrounding areas. One of the benefits of being a major employment and activity center is that we enjoy the benefit of a lot of private investment coming into the area – however, at times it seems that city driven vision of the district has been slow to meet the complete needs of residents who call District 2 home.

For that reason, I am requesting a Gateway District Plan be developed. A plan that focuses on the revitalization of 4th St N and Dr MLK Jr St N, starting at 62nd Ave N and extending north to I-275, would attract much needed services, private investment, increase property values, remove blight, and create more sustainable and resilient development for the business community and residents that surround these major corridors. The completion of the Forward Pinellas Gateway Master Plan and the changes implemented in the Coastal High Hazard area both have significant impacts on District 2. Therefore, it is my belief that the time is now to shine a brighter light on the opportunities that exist in this important part of our city that I have the honor of representing.

Always in my thoughts are the increasing challenges we face as a coastal community. Just this past November we all experienced a wake-up call due to the impacts of Tropical Storm Eta in our lowest lying neighborhoods. The time is now to begin planning for the next stage of our public and private infrastructure needs.

Therefore, I have requested additional capital improvement funding for stronger pump systems, public seawall repair and replacement, and backflow prevention. We realize that we cannot battle the impacts alone and recognize the need to work with private property owners on a plan that will assist them with upgrading their properties as well. Issues such as flood mitigation, sea wall replacement and private sewer line replacement continue to plague our community. We must remove the assumption that all property owners in the city, especially our waterfront communities, are wealthy individuals with money lining their pockets. I can assure you this is not the case. We have long-term residents often elderly or with generational ownership living across our city who are often very cash poor and need assistance when issues such as crumbling sea walls or compromised sewer lines need replacement. We must work together to assist them with making the necessary repairs that keep us all safer. For this I propose seeding a revolving loan fund that would provide no-to-low interest loans to residents who meet a strict set of income criteria and ownership requirements.

This is a plan in its infancy stages. However, I believe that with a strong commitment from administration to enact this fund and with Council’s collaboration in developing a responsible plan, we have an opportunity to improve the overall quality of our city that we will be proud of, and reap the benefits of, for years to come.

My colleagues and I have been strong supporters of public safety, housing affordability, investment in our youth, food security, taking care of our city employees, supporting small business, cherishing our history and investing in our future. All issues were thoroughly addressed in my Official Budget Memo to the Mayor last week.

We have numerous priorities, yet we recognize ourresources are finite. Let’s be bold when it comes to thinking bigger for the future of our city. Let’s be unafraid as we think creatively to address our most pressing needs and find better ways to assist our residents. Let’s attract incredible talent to our community, encourage companies who pay a living wage to thrive, sustainably and affordably house our residents, and prioritize equality across our city in real and tangible ways that will last well beyond the people who are in leadership today.

While buildings and monuments bear our names, investing in our neighborhoods, residents, and their livelihoods will be the legacy we leave behind for generations to come.

 

 

 

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