If you had $45 million of federal funds to strengthen your community as it emerges from a pandemic, what projects would be most important to you?
That is the question St. Petersburg city officials have posed to residents over the last three days at the American Rescue Plan community workshops held across the city. With the support of city council, Mayor Rick Kriseman and his administration developed these workshops to seek community feedback on which projects should receive funds.
Once that feedback is collected, the previously approved areas of impact will rank in order of community importance and be presented to city council – who will have the final say on where the $45 million in ARPA funds are allocated.
“This is a special cause and not something we’ve ever done before,” said Kriseman to the crowd. “Your voice is vital.”
The funding will be released in two installments – one this summer and another in the summer of 2022. The city strategically selected five areas of impact for residents to rank in order of importance:
- Economic Recovery/Resilience
- Health and Social Equity
- Housing Affordability and Support
- Public Health/Safety
The funding is not eligible to be spent on debt, pensions, or to reduce current taxes. Residents that could not attend the workshops can still submit their rankings on the city’s website.
City Development Administrator Alan DeLisle led the presentation on economic development. Each presentation started with a recap of recently completed projects, projects currently scheduled, and projects that are approved to receive ARPA funding.
Recent investments in economic development have focused on helping small businesses survive the pandemic, led by the Fighting Chance Fund. Current budgeted plans include programs such as the Grow Smarter Plan implementation. Potential projects for ARPA funds include the redevelopments of Tangerine Plaza and Tropicana Field, the Municipal Services Center, the Deuces Rising initiative and neighborhood commercial district improvements.
Cassidy Mutnansky, the city’s Health In All Policies Planner, discussed health and social equity programs.
“Equity requires us acknowledging that we don’t all start in the same place,” said Mutnansky. “There are historical injustices.”
She said that the city has put a strong emphasis on health equity over the last few years, spearheaded by Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin’s Healthy St. Pete (HSP) initiative. In addition to HSP, currently budgeted projects include the city’s Healthy Food Access Assessment & Mapping and the Food Policy Council.
As for future projects that are eligible for ARPA funding, Mutnansky said that “a lot of it is just enhancing what we are already doing.” Some highlights are immediate food assistance and nutrition, community and mobile healthcare, and digital inclusion. Mutnansky said the pandemic has made it clear just how important it is for residents to have access to internet service and technology.
Assistant City Administrator Tom Greene led the discussion on housing affordability and support. He described the city’s affordable housing plan, which will impact around 7,000 households and 19,000 people. The 10-year plan is to raise $60 million in federal, state and local funds. Of that, $20 million was to come from a proposed linkage fee, which will now be difficult to pass and implement following the State Legislature passing House Bill 1339 in 2020. ARPA funds could help offset that loss and allow the city to keep its goal of constructing and preserving 2,400 affordable multi-family units.
Public Works Administrator Claude Tankersley explained how infrastructure projects are already budgeted for tens of millions of dollars every year.
“That infrastructure is very expensive,” said Tankersley. “And we have to spend a lot of money to maintain it.”
Three infrastructure programs are eligible for ARPA investments: drinking water distribution and treatment, stormwater systems, and wastewater collection and treatment.
Police Chief Tony Holloway and Fire Chief James Large rounded out the workshop with public safety. Three areas of eligible investment were listed that would cover both the police and fire departments, and they all focused on improving the health of first-responders: air ionization systems for all facilities, portable sanitizing equipment, and ultraviolet sanitizing units for all facilities.
After the presentations, community members separated into breakout groups to decide which eligible projects were most important. Stay tuned to the St. Pete Catalyst for updates on what the order of prioritization will look like as the lists are compiled.