In what St. Petersburg City Council Chairman Ed Montanari called the Super Bowl of city finances, council members spent much of Thursday reviewing the city’s past financial performance and what could be ahead for the coming year.
The Covid-19 pandemic means it’s harder to make projections, Mayor Rick Kriseman told council members who were meeting online as a Committee of the Whole to review the city’s capital improvements program for the fiscal 2021 year, which starts Oct. 1, 2020.
Restrictions on business operations, intended to stop the spread of the virus, will impact the revenue the city counts on from the Penny from Pinellas one percent sales tax. Penny for Pinellas funds many of the city’s capital projects.
“The actual collection data that we need to accurately forecast the FY 21 Penny for Pinellas revenue will become available during the next couple of months,” Kriseman said. “There may also be impacts to other enterprise funds as well. We need to see actual performance to make good projections moving forward. The bottom line is it’s going to be a challenge to construct a budget in this environment but I am confident that this administration and this city council is up to the task.”
The city is in good financial shape to handle the challenges, Anne Fritz, St. Petersburg’s chief financial officer, said at an online city council budget committee meeting earlier Thursday.
She presented the comprehensive annual financial report for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2019, which included 10-year trends for the city.
“Back in 2010, city council made a lot of decisions related to fiscal policies going forward. We put in stronger fiscal policies related to the economic stability funds, and we have seen in the past 10 years how those have assisted the city in becoming what we are today,” Fritz said.
The city also got a clean audit for its outside auditor, Cherry Bekaert, for the last two fiscal years.
The capital improvements plan for FY 2021 is currently projected to total $120 million, with water resources projects making up $67.3 million, or 56 percent of the total, and Penny for Pinellas projects accounting for $36.4 million, or 30 percent of the total.
The water resources projects carry some of the heftiest price tags in the capital improvements plan. Heavy rains in 2015 and 2016 led to unauthorized wastewater discharges, and the city now is operating under consent orders with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. About $9.8 million of the total water resources spending is the result of the consent order, budget officials said.
The FY 2021 plan calls for spending $23.5 million on water reclamation facilities improvements, $12.95 million on water distribution system improvements, $10.9 million on the sanitary sewer collection system, $9.6 million for lift station improvements and $6.75 million on water resources building improvements.
There also are several items planned in the budget to address affordable housing, one of the city’s priorities, said Liz Makofske, budget and management director.
The city is planning on $7 million from the Penny for Pinellas funds over five years — from fiscal year 2021 to fiscal year 2025 — for affordable housing land acquisition.
There’s also $600,000 in the FY 2021 budget for affordable/workforce housing projects. That’s an increase of $350,000 over the prior two years, and a one-time increase that allows the city to show the highest level of government interest in competing for financing from the Florida Housing Finance Corp., Makofske said.
Other capital projects program highlights are:
• $24.6 million for citywide infrastructure including $9 million for sanitary sewer inflow and filtration removal, $5.9 million for street and road improvements, and $4.25 million for bridge reconstruction and replacement.
• $3.016 million for recreation and culture, including $1.15 million for parks and open space, and $400,000 each for Mahaffey Theater improvements and for swimming pool improvements.
• $600,000 for city facility improvements