Concerns about funding for the new Community Assistance Liaison program in the St. Petersburg Police Department and for affordable housing dominated a public hearing for the city’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.
About 20 city residents called in to the online budget hearing, asking the City Council to increase the amounts set aside for each for those programs.
The Thursday night public hearing was the first of two hearings for the proposed $671 million operating budget and $99.4 million capital expense budget for fiscal year 2021. A second hearing is set for Sept. 17, when the City Council is expected to adopt the spending plan.
The budget includes $850,000 for the first year of the police department’s Community Assistance Liaison division, which will be staffed by social workers and healthcare professionals who will respond to some non-criminal and non-violent calls for service. Nearly every speaker at the public hearing supported the program, but said the funding was too low.
The first-year funding comes from the $3.8 million, three-year commitment the city made to match a federal grant to hire new police officers. The city gave up the federal grant, but retained the city funding over three years.
“What actually made it into the budget for the CAL program exceeded the amount we had for the first year of the grant’s commitment,” Liz Makofske, the city’s budget director, told the City Council.
Police Chief Anthony Holloway came up with the parameters of the program and estimated the first-year costs, said Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin.
“We looked at the starting costs for the pilot program, to first bring these professionals on board to work with officers to see what calls they can handle. We’re talking about non-criminal calls. They would be working side by side with officers, and as it evolved we’ll see what calls they could handle,” Holloway said at the public hearing. “We could come back to City Council and say these are the calls they can handle, this is the direction we want to add in and then look at that budget for the following year.”
The proposed budget also includes $600,000 in the housing capital improvement fund to provide affordable/workforce housing projects, as well as $5 million over a five-year period for affordable housing land acquisition. The land acquisition funds were slightly reduced because the Covid-19 pandemic led to a drop in revenue from the Penny for Pinellas sales tax, Makofske said.
Overall, the FY 2021 budget includes $236.4 million for utilities, including water, stormwater and sanitation, as well as $153.5 million for the police and fire departments.
The city’s revenue primarily comes from charges for services and from taxes, including a half-cent sales tax and ad valorem, or property, taxes.
The property tax rate is expressed in mills. A mill is $1 for every $1,000 of taxable property value. For FY 2021, the millage rate is 6.7550 mills, the same as the current year. Property values have increased about 9.44 percent citywide, however, generating about $13.1 million in additional property tax revenue for the city.
For more details on the proposed FY 2021 city budget click here.