A permanent home for St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue Station 2, property tax breaks through a millage rate decrease and incentives to encourage development on city-owned and privately-owned vacant lots led the list of priorities laid out by St. Petersburg City Council members for fiscal year 2021. Council shared a first look at budget priorities during a preliminary discussion at the Council of the Whole (COW) Thursday morning.
According to staff, the City is preliminarily projecting increases in both ad valorem revenues (6.5 percent) and non-ad valorem revenues (3.27 percent) in 2021. It also projects an eight percent increase in general revenue expenditures due to increases in part-time and full-time salaries and wages, benefits, debt payments and contributions to TIF districts like the South St. Petersburg CRA.
Ad valorem revenues, which come from property taxes, have increased every year in St. Petersburg since 2014. In fact, for the last few years, ad valorem revenues have come in above estimates, increasing 9.5 percent in the last two years. Non ad valorem revenues, which come from assessments like utility services, are generally flat, but have seen a modest increase in the last few years.
Each city council member provided an explanation of their own priorities for the 2021 budget. The council members were generally in agreement on investments in a permanent location for St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue Station 2, hiring additional St. Petersburg Police Officers, adding city council staff and planting shade trees.
They were also in agreement with Council chair Ed Montanari’s proposal to provide a small millage rate decrease for St. Pete residents. The millage rate decrease would provide a break for property owners in St. Petersburg, who face rising costs for utilities and insurance in the coming years. Millage rates are the tax rates used to calculate local property taxes. The rate represents the amount a homeowner has to pay for every $1,000 of a property’s assessed value.
Here’s what each council member had to say in order of speaking. Redundant priorities were listed for the first council member to address the issue.
Chair Ed Montanari, District 3
- Increase savings and economic stability funds. He proposed increasing economic stability funds expenditures from $500,000 to $750,000.
- Provide funding for two additional full-time legislative aides to provide one aide per council member. He estimated this would cost $135,000-150,000
- Increase funding for new sidewalks and sidewalk maintenance
- Provide St. Pete residents a millage rate reduction of .15. Montanari said this would offset increases in utility rates
- Provide $800,000 to plant 1,000 new shade trees throughout the city
- Allocate funds to provide a permanent home for Fire and Rescue Station 2
- Hire 13 additional St. Petersburg Police Department Officers, in line with the city’s 3-year hiring plan
- Invest in Shore Acres Recreation Center
- Continue investments in the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, Grow Smarter and St. Pete Economic Development Corporation (EDC)
- Fund the Carter G. Woodson African American Museum
Council Member Amy Foster, District 8
- Investments in sidewalks, walkability and Complete Street implementation
- Provide funding for the implementation of priorities of the 34th Street Master Plan
- Increase funding/staffing for parks and recreation maintenance
- Create a fund to assist homeowners with costs of repairing private laterals, such as interest-free loan programs
Council Member Darden Rice, District 4
- Increase affordability for all residents, keeping prices down on utility bills and possibly capping utility bills for low-income residents or fixed-income seniors
- Address the affordable housing issue by improving the vacant lot disposition program
- Fund collaboration with Forward Pinellas, including educating pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers, prioritize walkability
Vice Chair Gina Driscoll, District 6
- Fund the Office of Sustainability and Resiliency to fully implement the priorities of the Integrated Sustainability Action Plan (ISAP)
- Provide funding for a position for an energy analyst within the Office of Sustainability and Resiliency
- Create a revolving energy investment fund
- Secure a location and design plans for a new St. Pete Fire and Rescue training facility
- Provide funds for every firefighter to have a second set of gear, to decrease contamination and health concerns
- Provide Public Works Department funding for non-utility infrastructure needs, including sidewalks and bridges
- Acquire land near Salt Creek and preliminary designs for a pump station to prevent flooding from Lake Maggiore
- Complete permitting process for dredging of Bartlett Lake
- Increase contract with Keep Pinellas Beautiful from $10,000 to $20,000
- Invest in PSTA bus shelter match program
- Increase funding for parks and recreation facility repairs and maintenance
- Provide resources for Neighborhood Affairs to allow neighborhoods to update outdated neighborhood plans or create plans where they do not yet exist
- Invest $150,000 in a food insecurity reduction plan, increase meals on wheels budget
Council Member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, District 7
- Invest in Public Works
- Further invest in Neighborhood Team (known as N-Team)
Council Member Robert Blackmon, District 1
- Invest in better neighborhood signage on 22nd Avenue and 38th Avenue
- Invest in infrastructure, including bridges and parks
- Provide funding for recycling in commercial businesses
- Invest in sidewalk repair and power-washing
Council Member Deborah Figgs-Sanders, District 5
- Invest in affordable and workforce housing initiatives
- Fund the Carter G. Woodson African American Museum
- Invest in youth programs
- Provide funding for entrepreneurial and workforce training, including St. Pete Works
- Provide funding for communication, marketing and education of constituents about city programs and initiatives
Council Member Brandi Gabbard, District 2 (Gabbard was absent but her priorities were listed and a memo accepted into record. She also posted it to Facebook.)