St. Petersburg officials want to make sure city residents know that they can have a say about how to spend millions of dollars in funding from the American Rescue Plan.
The federal plan is a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package that includes $350 billion to help states and local governments mitigate the fiscal impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. St. Petersburg is in line for $45.4 million that will be paid in two equal installments this summer and next year. The city has until December 2024 to deploy the resources, Tom Greene, assistant city administrator, told the City Council Thursday.
The city plans to hold three public workshops in July to get community input on how to spend the money, Mayor Rick Kriseman said at a news conference Wednesday. The city’s marketing department will work on a comprehensive communications plan to encourage attendance at the workshops and to give out information about the process in advance, Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin told the City Council in a follow-up briefing.
At the workshops, community members will be asked to prioritize eight eligible areas of impact:
• Affordable housing and neighborhoods
• Health equity
• Economic development
• Resilience and sustainability
• Leisure services
• Public safety.
There’s also an “other” category for uncontemplated but eligible areas of impact.
The workshops will be geographically dispersed around the city at locations to be announced and are expected to take place after the July 4 holiday. The first hour of each workshop will be creating a common understanding, with city staff leading a discussion on investments the city made during the pandemic and potential additional investments, Greene said. In the second hour of the workshop, there will be small breakout groups to discuss prioritization of categories for investment. Each person also will have a chance to submit their own individual priority rankings.
“I think about this as a funnel,” Greene said. “We want to start broad, get input, funnel that down through the eligibility requirements and ultimately end up at a place where we’ve taken the public input and the investment that we ultimately land up on and bring that to Council for approval.”
Everyone is sure to have an opinion about how the money should be spent, Kriseman said,
“But we also recognize that the folks impacted most by Covid-19, folks that President Biden and Congress and all of us want to help, need to be the ones powering this process,” Kriseman said. “We need an equitable recovery from Covid-19. We know the disproportionate impact Covid has had on our Black community and our vulnerable populations. We know we have work to do. St. Pete is bouncing back but we can’t rest until we get everyone back, not only to where we were before the pandemic but to an even better place, a more equitable space.”
Kriseman said the catalyst for seeking public input was the city’s recent budget open house, where several people asked for public hearings on the funding. But unlike the annual budget process, where the city has obligations around labor costs and other required spending, “This gives us a chance to go directly to the community to make sure they understand that we hear them, that we let our work reflect what they ask,” Tomalin said.
Closer look: Florida cities
Here’s how much funding from the American Rescue Plan is going to major cities around Florida.