St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch recently presented his fiscal year 2024 budget recommendations to the city council with multiple fiscal highlights added following preliminary reviews in the spring.
Those include lower millage rates, increased allocations for housing and social programs and $1 million in contingency funding for the Historic Gas Plant District/Tropicana Field redevelopment. Welch continued his tradition of presenting his plans in person at a July 13 meeting.
Liz Makofske, budget director, led a detailed presentation and said the much-anticipated redevelopment’s funding was additional money for unforeseen costs next year. City Administrator Rob Gerdes expects incremental expenses to arise and said it could go towards legal or “owner’s rep” costs.
“We think this is the prudent thing to do,” Gerdes said. “We hope there will be these types of expenses going forward if we consummate what we’re working on.”
Several council members spoke in favor of the other recent changes to the $827 million operating budget – an 8.8% increase over FY23. Welch added $100,000 for the Citywide Eviction Prevention program, $500,000 for youth employment initiatives, $385,211 to hire five additional St. Petersburg Fire Rescue cadets and increased operating capital for multiple departments by $385,211.
Welch said the budget ensures resources reach six community impact areas: housing opportunities for all; environment, infrastructure and resilience; equitable development; arts and business opportunities; education and youth opportunities; and neighborhood health and safety.
“Together, our pillars and principles help guide our daily work and also guide the budget process,” Welch said. “All of the programs and services included in my recommended budget are achieved within our available revenues.”
Administrators assumed the city’s tax base would increase by 7%. The July 1 certifications showed a 12.36% spike, slightly less than last year’s 15.3%.
That covered a previous budget gap, and Welch said homesteaded property owners would see their effective tax rate reduced from 3% to 2.09%. He said the windfall decreased the city’s tax burden by $1.7 million.
The value increase also allows officials to maintain a $500,000 investment in the economic stability fund. Councilmember Copley Gerdes and Chair Brandi Gabbard noted that officials should put money away to mitigate insurance woes.
Others hoped for a more significant millage decrease but appreciated any savings. “I’m glad that we’re working in that direction,” said Councilmember Ed Montanari.
Welch announced two new transportation initiatives in partnership with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority. One would provide $200,000 to keep the SunRunner free, and $175,000 will “buy down” fares on all routes for “disadvantaged” riders.
Those require three-year interlocal agreements with renewal options. Welch said that could take effect in October or November.
“The transportation disadvantaged funding can be a game-changer for us,” said Councilmember Gina Driscoll. “What I’m hoping with this is that with us putting in some money for that, some of our other municipalities around the county – and perhaps the county itself – will look at ways that we can strengthen that program.”
Public safety costs are the city’s largest expenditure at nearly $192 million, or about 53% of the $364 million general fund. That represents a $16 million increase over FY23.
Welch said the St. Petersburg Police Department’s Community Assistance and Life Liaison (CALL) program would receive $1.7 million to fund two navigators and one supervisory position. It would also extend operational hours into the evening.
He also dedicated $1.5 million to SPPD’s body camera program. In addition to the new fire rescue cadets, Welch said the county will fund six permanent paramedic positions.
The budget includes $8 million for the Housing and Community Development Department. There is also a $750,000 transfer to the Housing Capital Improvement fund, a $75,000 increase over FY23.
Welch is dedicating $8.75 million in Penny for Pinellas funding to affordable housing land acquisition. Homelessness mitigation initiatives would receive over $2 million.
He noted that college students often request more local job opportunities, and the city will allocate $1 million to youth employment programs. That doubles FY23’s funding.
The FY24 capital improvements budget totals $164 million, with several projects supporting environmental sustainability and resilience. The Public Works Administration will receive $287.7 million for operations.
“You (Welch) have really – like everyone else said – listened and tried to fill holes where you can, as they align with your pillars,” Gabbard said. “I think you just knocked it out of the park. You have really found a way to fill those gaps.”
Council members will further explore the budget recommendations and meet individually with administrators before two public hearings in September. For more information, visit the website here.