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Mayor announces unique new program, city position

Mark Parker



Mayor Ken Welch announced two new initiatives to increase community engagement and support Wednesday evening. Photo by Mark Parker.

The City of St. Petersburg has launched its $1 million Innovative Equity Project that allows residents to vote on funding recipients. That is not the only new line item in Mayor Ken Welch’s recommended budget.

Welch concluded Wednesday’s Budget Open House meeting by announcing his plans to establish a community intervention and safety liaison position. The role is in response to a recent rash of gun violence.

Welch told attendees that the liaison would help residents navigate and understand available resources. He has discussed pervasive issues with top brass and said they are “moving in the same direction.”

“There’s a lack of community belief in and use of those systems – I’m just being frank,” Welch said. “So, folks don’t know what’s available out there.”

Fostering involvement in the budgeting process was the meeting’s overarching theme. City council members lauded the administration’s plan to increase direct participation through the Innovative Equity Project.

Officials have dedicated up to $1 million to the program. Multiple city departments brainstormed ideas and pitched projects to receive funding.

Administrators then selected five initiatives prioritizing innovation and inclusivity that align with the mayor’s Pillars for Progress. Those include housing opportunities for all; environment, infrastructure and resilience; equitable development; arts and business opportunities; youth opportunities; and healthy and safe neighborhoods.

“Starting tonight, the community will have a chance to vote on one of the five projects that will drive positive change and advance equity across St. Pete,” Welch said.

The five projects include:

  • Cover St. Pete: This program would replace about 50 roofs “with less than five years of remaining useful life” for homeowners earning less than 120% of the area median income (AMI). The city would pay contractors up to $20,000 through a zero-interest, forgivable deferred loan.
  • Forward Together: This initiative would address foundational causes of youth involvement in crime. It emphasizes intervention and “violence interruption” through mental health and human services programs. Funding would also help expand Community Resource Centers and bolster the Police Athletic League’s efforts.
  • Swim Smart: A partnership between Pinellas County Schools, St. Pete Parks and Recreation and community leaders will provide equitable access to essential water safety skills and swim lessons. A two-year pilot program will launch next spring and includes the installation of outdoor remote lockers for libraries.
  • Dream Big Day: This initiative creates a citywide Day of Service dedicated to honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy. The money would fund “small yet impactful activities” and unite residents in a “collective effort to serve and celebrate our city’s rich culture.”
  • Water Assistance for St. Petersburg Homeowners (WASH): The WASH program would provide utility bill assistance for households earning less than 80% of the AMI.

Residents can vote for their favorite project online through June 12. Several community centers will also offer pop-up displays and paper ballots.

Every council member stressed the importance of community engagement in the budgeting process, and John Muhammad called it an “entry point” to his career in public service. He wants to codify the Innovative Equity Project to ensure future administrations continue the program.

“We want the budget to reflect our values,” said Councilmember Gina Driscoll. “Not mine, not his (Welch’s) – ours.”

Several representatives from the Dream Defenders spoke at the meeting. The Black women-led grassroots organization promotes racial justice and community safety.

Many speakers bemoaned the recent rash of youth gun violence and a lack of city resources. Driscoll noted that resources are available, “and it shouldn’t be a maze to try and find it.”

Council Chair Deborah Figgs-Sanders said those issues “are not new.” She also credited city officials for listening to their constituents and searching for solutions.

“The gun violence – I don’t know what we need to do and how we need to address it,” Figgs-Sanders said. “But something needs to be done.”

Welch stood behind the dais and took notes throughout the public forum. The mayor said he, Police Chief Anthony Holloway, Chief of Staff Doyle Walsh and Carl Lavender, chief equity officer, have identified “shortcomings” in informational systems that the new liaison will help mitigate.

Welch said he would contact the Dream Defenders to explore program funding opportunities. He also refuted the “false choice” narrative that the stadium project detracts from youth initiatives.

Welch noted that the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area, which includes the oft-discussed Childs Park neighborhood, will accrue $25 million this year. “There’s a lot of funding available,” he said.

“We’ve got the same priorities,” Welch added. “We are aggressively investing.”

For more information on the Innovative Equity Project, visit the website here.

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  1. Avatar

    Hugh Hazeltine

    April 21, 2024at2:34 pm

    If I understand this correctly, this proposal is a $1M line item in an $834M annual budget. I voted for the swim smart program. As a city that is surrounded by water, knowing how to swim is a life skill that can pay dividends for both health and safety.

  2. Avatar

    S. Rose Smith-Hayes

    April 21, 2024at9:14 am

    WOW!!!The responses are interesting. I recommend Parenting Classes for every out of wedlock child that is born in the city and include both parents if possible.

  3. Avatar

    Laurie Bradford

    April 19, 2024at9:34 pm

    Hello I need my roof fixed along with the stumps in my yard that may potentially start to get into my pipe lines. Hopefully they haven’t already started because I’m smelling egg water smell in my bathroom. If I could get help with with this it would would be a blessing.

  4. Avatar

    Velva Lee Heraty

    April 19, 2024at7:58 pm

    I’m seeing 25 million down the drain. I’m seeing diversionary tactics. I’m seeing serious denial on what the real problem in St. Pete is… youth and violence. IF 25 million is going to be spent, spend it there on a serious pilot program for the families in crisis whose youth are running the streets while their parent(s) are holding down 2-3 jobs.

  5. Avatar


    April 19, 2024at6:05 pm

    I am forever shocked at how much my world view can differ from other people… Particularly the other people in the st Pete city government.

    I looked at the voting. I was not surprised that “we shouldn’t spend this money of frivolous BS because we didn’t earn it and we aren’t productive members of society” wasn’t an option.

  6. Avatar

    John Donovan

    April 19, 2024at4:23 pm

    If this is a binding referendum, then this method of ‘voting” likely isn’t legal. So, it’s not a binding referendum then? Which means city can do whatever they like, regardless of the “vote’. That said, if I had to choose one, I’d choose teach kids to swim. What that has to do with lockers and libraries, I’m not sure. Except it has something to do with money. Who gets what (contract). I also think the city’s least favorite option is teach kids to swim, because they are already doing it and are going to do it anyways. (as they should). But they really want the money to go to certain voters and contractors, and kids don’t vote. So – I recommend “Teach Kids To Swim”. Vote early and often (if there are no limits).

  7. Avatar

    Donna Kostreva

    April 19, 2024at1:50 pm

    Pouring another $25MILLION into unproven programs run by whom, to accomplish unnamed outcomes, measured by unknown indicators
    on the south side?? We have gun crime, and car thefts because youth are not taught self control at home. We have unemployment because the children are not taught at home that education is their golden ticket to a better life. We have fatherless homes with single young mothers having out of wedlock babies as a revenue stream. Let’s get real and address these well documented issues.

  8. Avatar

    Ryan Todd

    April 18, 2024at5:01 pm

    The answer to youth gun violence is not hiring a liaison officer or communicating better with communities. The answer to youth gun violence is good parenting.

  9. Avatar

    Ryan Todd

    April 18, 2024at4:56 pm

    Boycott the voting all together.
    Tell city hall we don’t want Mayor Welch’s divisive pursuit of equitable outcomes. Equity is the enemy of equal opportunity and more welcome in Cuba than Florida.

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