ST. PETERSBURG — After sending more than 250 people to a previous meeting, members of the People’s Budget Review boycotted Thursday’s final budget hearing, fearing the city council would ignore their call for more funding to tackle poverty, youth unemployment and run-down neighborhoods.
Instead, almost 200 members of the grass-roots group made up of union members and neighborhood associations went door to door across the city asking residents to put up yard signs supporting spending on families and neighborhoods. They also want residents to remember which members of the city council voted down their proposals when they vote in upcoming elections.
As it turned out a majority of city council members agreed with them and in a 5-3 vote approved adding an extra $300,000 to Mayor Bill Foster’s $212 million budget for 2014.
The additional spending includes $100,000 to add 40 spots in an after-school work program intended to lower youth unemployment in some of the poorest areas of the city, $20,000 to reduce the number of homeless people in Williams Park and sets aside $180,000 that likely will be divided between economic development and neighborhood improvement programs.
The money will come from funds originally earmarked to pay for the city’s downtown waterfront master plan, an expense that instead will be paid for from the city’s reserve funds.
During the contentious meeting, city council members who voted against the extra spending said it was fiscally irresponsible to dig further into the reserve fund, which is below the 20 percent target set by city policy.
“If something happens and we need to dig into reserves, we will be called every name in the book for not being responsible,” said Councilman Bill Dudley. “We need to get our reserves back to where they need to be.’’
But supporters said the city was slowly recovering from the recession and needed to do more to spur economic development and tackle poverty and crime.
“I am going to support what are modest efforts to invest in our children and creating jobs,” said council Chairman Karl Nurse.
About a dozen teenagers who took part in the city’s summer youth work program called on council members to approve funding for the after-school program.
The program, which is run from the Boley Center on 31st Street North in Midtown, was launched last month with 33 youths ages 14 to 18 gaining work experience in stores, recreation centers and pre-schools, among other areas. The teens are paid $7.79 an hour, with employers paying $3.90 and the city picking up the remainder.
Director Curtis Anderson said the extra funding would make a big difference to teenagers in one of the city’s poorest areas.
“They want jobs; they want opportunities,” he said.
The extra spending on economic development will likely go toward more funding for Main Street programs and city corridors, areas earmarked as needing to be revitalized. That will likely include the Edge District and parts of Central Avenue. The exact allocations will be decided at a future workshop.
Members of People’s Budget Review manned phone banks this week, making 2,000 calls to ask residents to support their request for more spending on families, neighborhoods and creating jobs. Volunteers went door to door in Pinellas Point, Old Southeast, Child’s Park and other neighborhoods distributing 1,000 yard signs to residents willing to place them in their yards.
Foster’s budget includes $2.8 million to award city workers a pay raise, the first in five years for some employees. It also cuts the property tax rate by 0.1 percent and pays for five additional police officers.
Rising home values means the city will take in an estimated $3.1 million more in property taxes in the next fiscal year than this year.