St. Pete City Council approves 10 Southside CRA programs and nearly $500,000 budget - SaintPetersBlog

St. Pete City Council approves 10 Southside CRA programs and nearly $500,000 budget

St. Pete City Council approved 10 items aimed at lifting poverty and boosting the economy in South St. Pete during its meeting. The vote was 7-0 with Council Vice Chairwoman Darden Rice absent for the vote. Council also approved unanimously a budget to support those items.

The items were recommended by the Citizens Advisory Committee to be funded through the first round of appropriations from the newly created Southside Community Redevelopment Area.

Five of the proposals would use county-approved Tax Incremental Funds to provide direct grants to businesses, property owners and residents within the Southside CRA.

The other five programs either anticipate using TIF revenue, but would not necessarily do so each year or support existing programs and partners within the CRA.

Most of the concern about the proposal circled around whether or not there was substantial support for workforce development programs. The original recommendation included a 50 percent allocation of a total of $487,370 in Tax Incremental Fund revenue for business development programs, 40 percent for housing and neighborhood revitalization and just ten percent for workforce development.

Several council members expressed concern that threshold was too low. In what turned out to be a compromise, council added an amendment to the approved budget that shifted the ten percent workforce readiness allocation into workforce development and added a 10 percent contribution floor for workforce readiness programs. That means those programs will still get at least the minimum ten percent originally proposed, but could get more.

Councilmember Charlie Gerdes recommended the change in allocation. Rice told city staff she was surprised so little was devoted to workforce development. The TIF revenue requires a partnership with the Pinellas County Commission to allocate property taxes they facilitate prompting Commissioner Ken Welch to show in support of the budget and targeted items.

“When you talk about empowering someone to get a job, to me that is in the job readiness component,” Welch said. “Ten percent is just too low.”

Among the direct grants approved are multifamily residence grants that would give owners or developers a property tax break on new or substantially renovated affordable housing with at five units or more. That means units would be housed by families at or below 80 percent the median household income. The award is capped at $50,000.

Other grants similarly offer incentives for residential improvements inside and out, commercial improvements and enhancements to business districts within the CRA.

But each of those requires a fairly substantial buy-in. The Residential Property Improvement grant, for example, requires a minimum $10,000 investment in order to qualify. That came as a concern to community activist Ashley Green.

“[You should] really take a deeper reflection of how we can be more inclusive,” Green said.

But Councilmember Karl Nurse was quick to point out that many of those grants, while benefitting people who may already have enough capital to make investments, indirectly benefit residents who don’t.

Updated appliances or even a 21st century toilet, Nurse explained, could save residents in multifamily units hundreds of dollars each year.

Another concern came from former City Council candidate Sheila Scott-Griffin who warned council was acting too soon. She suggested council defer voting on a budget and plan until the city conducts a comprehensive master plan.

“We would have thought no less concerning our downtown; no less concerning our waterfront,” Scott-Griffin said. “Wouldn’t it be nice to know what the end looks like in the beginning?”

Gerdes pointed to the very successful in-town CRA that paved the way to sweeping improvements to downtown. That plan, according to city staff, was created in house.

Another unique issue arose during conversation. The Community Redevelopment Agency meetings are not televised like City Council meetings and even many committee meetings. Nurse and Welch both asked that the city begin televising those.

Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin in her brief remarks supporting the CRA said the city will do just that. Though she did not say when that would take effect.

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Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.
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