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St. Pete budget preview: City plans to beef up police force, CALL program update

Margie Manning



St. Petersburg police (Photo credit: City of St. Petersburg)

The city of St. Petersburg plans to apply for a federal grant in the upcoming fiscal year to add more police officers.

City officials did not say how many police officers they hope to add when they told the City Council Tuesday morning that they would apply for the COPS grant funding in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

The police department was an early focus as Council members, meeting as a Committee of the Whole, got an overview of Mayor Rick Kriseman’s draft budget for fiscal year 2022. As of Tuesday, the plan calls for spending $303.1 million while taking in $299.5 million in revenue, but that gap of $3.6 million is expected to close by the time Kriseman offers a final budget proposal in mid-July.

“This budget does more than fund the operating expenses for our city. It reflects our common values, incorporates our strategic pathways and puts us one step closer to attaining our shared vision,” Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin told Council members.

One unknown is how much ad valorem, or property taxes, will contribute to city revenue in the coming year. The draft budget estimates a 1 percent increase in property values, but that’s conservative, Liz Makofske, budget director, told Council members. She expects property taxes to come in higher than the original estimate.

Police focus

The planned COPS grant funding is not in the draft budget. The city is still working through the details with the police department and the U.S. Department of Justice, and specifics are expected to be in the final budget proposal, said Jim Chism, budget manager.

The St. Petersburg Police Department last year gave up a $3.125 million COPS grant that would have helped pay for 25 new officers. The department instead used city funds earmarked to match the grant to retain a social service agency, Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services, to respond to non-criminal, non-violent calls for service.

That program, the Community Assistance and Life Liaison, or CALL program, has been a success so far, said Assistant Chief Antonio Gilliam.

“They’ve responded to hundreds upon hundreds of calls. They’ve had hundreds of interactions with our community. There have been zero incidents. No one has gotten hurt. There’s been no complaints to my knowledge,” Gilliam said. “We’ve also had great buy-in from within our police department. We’ve seen our sworn officers give just over 200 referrals of citizens to the CALL program and that’s unbelievable … We now see that our sworn officers see the value of CALL.”

Related: Social workers train, respond to 911 calls alongside St. Pete police

Council member Deborah Figgs-Sanders asked Gilliam if the police department considered bringing the program in-house. Gilliam said it was important to separate the response to non-criminal, non-violent calls from law enforcement.

A similar program at the Pinellas County Sheriff’s office was kept in-house and has had hiring issues, said Council member Amy Foster.

“They have had significant issues finding people that they could hire and actually their salaries were significantly higher than what we’re contracting out for. To bring someone on, they were paying a minimum of $75,000  a person. It looks like it might be cheaper without that administrative overhead, but when you consider benefits and everything else, it might not work out that way,” Foster said.

The CALL program is slated to get $1.133 million in funding for FY 2022, while another new police program, for body-worn cameras, would get $1.035 million in funding next year. Council Chair Ed Montanari said he was concerned about the cost of the body cam program and asked Gilliam about the future of the program.

Gilliam said the city is locked into a five-year contract approved last year. One of the biggest factors in the current costs is the increasing number of public records requests for body cam footage. Those requests require extensive review, not just at the St. Petersburg Police department but nationally, and that increases personnel costs, Gilliam said.

“In terms of the future, I can tell you that our officers have adjusted to body worn cameras and almost to a person they are recording more than I anticipated. Just last week, there were at least two complaints that turned out to be unfounded because we were able to quickly review the body-worn camera and show the officers did their jobs and did the right thing,” he said.

Council member Darden Rice asked about police training in light of the national focus on justice and accountability. Rice questioned a reduction in the training budget.

The new St. Petersburg Police headquarters allows the department to host trainings instead of having to travel elsewhere, Gilliam said.

“Chief Holloway has made a commitment to our community. He’s increased the amount of training that officers – sworn and non-sworn – are undergoing. The change is we’re doing it in-house,” Gilliam said.

The public safety spending plan also includes $690,000 to replace three rescue vehicles in the Emergency Medical Services budget.

Budget highlights

 In memo to the City Council, Kriseman highlighted several budget priorities.

Affordable housing. “Housing affordability remains one of our community’s most pressing challenges. We continue our 10-year commitment to the For All From All housing affordability plan to increase the supply of housing across the spectrum, and assist 7,000 households during that time,” Tomalin told Council members.

The City Council’s recent approval of a $5 million credit facility to incentivize the development of affordable and workforce housing multi-family dwelling units will be followed by a $600,000 transfer to the housing capital improvement fund in fiscal year 2022, she said. That’s in addition to the more than $6 million from Penny for Pinellas funding in the capital improvement budget.

Sustainability and resiliency. There’s about $5.46 million of new funding citywide connected to these initiatives, in addition to funding from prior years that will continue in FY 2022. That includes the continuation of a clean energy partnership with University of South Florida, the purchase of compressed natural gas trucks for sanitation and dual trash and recycling receptacles in city parks. The city also plans to install a rooftop solar photovoltaic systems at the North West Reclamation Facility and buy 10 hybrid police take home vehicles.

Public works. The water resources operating budget calls for 13 new positions to continued programmatic improvements in water resource operations designed to boost operational efficiency, increased reliability and reduced reliance on contract services, the memo said. The stormwater utility operating budget includes nearly $25 million for improved water quality and flood mitigation, with an additional 5.6 new full-time equivalent positions.

“Our commitments to the community in the areas of urban affairs, LGBTQ equity, homelessness and social action funding, and youth employment programming continue, in keeping with the programs and commitments that have been established,” Tomalin said. “Our city development, leisure services, internal services and other pillars of the city’s operations are maintained at current levels of service.”

The city has previously provided salary hikes for personnel and the FY 22 budget includes the resources to provide the agreed-upon salary increases for the various collective bargaining units as well as for workers not covered by a collective bargaining unit, the memo said.

A budget open house, giving the public the chance to weigh in on the spending plan, will be at 6 p.m. May 17, both in person at City Council chambers and online. More details are available at stpete.org/budget.

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