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Saturday, Aug 30, 2014

St. Pete council raising budget goals


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ST. PETERSBURG — Economic development, money to spruce up neighborhoods and the restoration of the city’s reserve fund emerged Thursday as the city council’s top priorities for 2015.

Council members also want Mayor Rick Kriseman’s first budget to include a pay raise for city workers and funding to hire more code enforcement staff to crack down on rundown properties that blight neighborhoods.

Compiling a priority list has been something of a futile task for the council in recent years, with some requests ignored as the city grappled with budget cuts. But with many of their priorities matching campaign pledges made by Kriseman, there was increased optimism Thursday that the city’s 2014 budget will be more to council members’ liking.

Chief among the council’s goals is to attract more jobs to St. Petersburg. Members Karl Nurse and Charlie Gerdes called for funding to be allocated for a public-private partnership with the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce to bolster marketing of the city.

Local companies that partner with the chamber would pledge to cover 80 percent of the cost to hire marketers and a negotiator who could close deals quickly with businesses considering coming to the city. The city would make up the remaining 20 percent.

“We need to be prepared to spend real money on that,” Nurse said. “Over four years of budget cuts, we’ve cut economic development spending by $1 million.”

Gerdes called for the city to allocate up to $350,000 for the partnership. With that, the city could land half a dozen companies paying salaries between $60,000 and $80,000.

“The ripple effect will be incredible,” he said.

Restoring the city’s rainy-day fund is also high on some council members’ list of priorities after several years when the city borrowed from it to avoid making layoffs during the recession. At the end of the 2013 fiscal year, the fund’s balance of roughly $34 million was about $8 million short of the city target of reserving 20 percent of its $211 million general fund.

City staff members have until April to present a recovery plan to restore the fund over several years.

“It’s something our citizens expect of us, to protect them from catastrophic situations that arise and to be able to provide services for them in such a case,” Chairman Bill Dudley said.

There also were calls for more funding for neighborhood grants and for the city to support neighborhoods embarking on revitalization projects such as the creation of business districts.

Frustrated at funding levels proposed by former Mayor Bill Foster, council members in September carved out an extra $300,000 from this year’s budget, part of which went toward the formation of the Edge District to seek designation as a Main Street, a move locals hope will attract new employers and revitalize the area.

Even so, the council still must agree to some funding requests, including $60,000 for the proposed Skyway Marina district.

Council Vice Chairman Steve Kornell, whose district includes the Skyway business area, said money for those projects should be built into the budget to prevent delays.

“Doing a plan and letting it sit on a shelf for a period of time is the wrong way to do it,” Kornell said.

codonnell@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-7654

Twitter: @codonnellTBO

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