St. Pete City Council Archives - SaintPetersBlog

Barclay Harless to kickoff St. Pete City Council bid with Jan. 31 fundraiser

Barclay Harless is starting 2017 with a bang.

The 31-year-old St. Petersburg banking executive, after launching a bid for City Council District 2 Monday, announced his first fundraiser for next week.

The event is Tuesday, Jan. 31 and begins 5:30 p.m. at Ricky P’s, 11002 4th St. N in St. Petersburg. Harless is seeking the seat covering most of Northeast St. Petersburg now held by term-limited Jim Kennedy. He is the first candidate to announce in the race.

“I want to thank you for the overwhelming support we are receiving,” Harless said in the email invite. “It is important we have a strong showing in our first week and I am cordially inviting you to my campaign kickoff!”

Harless, a graduate of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, is currently an assistant bank officer at Bank of the Ozarks. Before that, he was a legislative aide to then-state Rep. Darryl Rouson of St. Pete. Harless also worked on Alex Sink’s unsuccessful 2014 run for Florida’s 13th Congressional District.

With a long list community activism, Harless served as state policy chair for the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and held a seat on the Pinellas Charter Review, where he helped draft an amendment requiring citizen input for future county commission redistricting.

“We will not find solutions in finger-pointing or empty political rhetoric,” Harless said in a statement announcing his candidacy. “Rather, our problems require bold, decisive action to get things done.”

RSVPs and registration for the event are available online; more information on Harless and his candidacy is at voteharless.com.

Primaries for the City of St. Petersburg municipal races are Aug. 29; general election at-large voting is Nov. 7.

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St. Petersburg staff to present alternative uses for downtown TIF

St. Petersburg city staff will present ideas on how to expand the use of Tax Incremental Funds downtown to relieve the city’s budgetary burden. City Council member Karl Nurse wants to see whether there’s a way to tap into the portion of property tax money set aside for projects within the downtown TIF district for projects not traditionally considered under the program.

Particularly, Nurse is hoping to use the money for sewer infrastructure repairs.

“Every time you build a block, if you could pay for that replacement infrastructure would be a good thing,” Nurse said.

Council member Jim Kennedy specifically asked that the staff report include information on whether or not TIF could be used for sewer repairs. He also requested that the report coincide with the last Budget, Finance and Taxation meeting in March, when that committee is expected to address the city’s aging sewage infrastructure.

Even if the city identifies projects to fund through TIF, those items will still require county approval because the county serves as the financial steward for the TIF.

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Skyway Marina District leaders want $5,000 for design plan development

St. Pete City Council’s Public Services and Infrastructure committee will discuss a potential $5,000 grant to the Skyway Marina District for design plan development services next week. The board is expected to fast track a decision.

Steve Kornell, whose City Council district includes Skyway Marina, brought the item before full council at its regular meeting Thursday. The small appropriation is intended to allow the Skyway Marina District board to hire a consultant to develop a design plan for the corridor.

That plan would include the types of businesses desired for the area, architectural style preferences and even a list of suggested colors that would work best in the reimagined South 34th Street area.

“Time is of the essence,” Kornell said.

That’s because a number of construction projects are already underway. Both the Burger King and Wendy’s in that district are being replaced and the Publix being rebuilt. Other shuttered businesses including what was once a Ponderossa Steakhouse at the northern portion of the district will also likely be torn down and replaced.

“We want to make sure that we have the tools to give developers to say this is what we’d like to see here,” Kornell said.

He explained the Skyway Marina District board did not have the experience or expertise required to develop a design plan.

City Council member Charlie Gerdes suggested taking a vote during the meeting rather than referring the issue to a committee for further discussion. However, Kornell said he hoped to have conversations with staff about where to pull the $5,000 from.

Kornell suggested the money could come from the BP oil settlement money without making a dent in other proposed projects. But City Council member Darden Rice said she’d prefer to see the money come from other sources like the planning or neighborhood affairs departments.

“I’m fine with that,” Kornell said.

He was given assurances by city legal staff that the measure could move through the rest of the parliamentary process quickly after next week’s committee stop.

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Race week in St. Pete gets City Council’s green flag

St. Pete City Council approves Race Week 2016 for the March 10-13 Grand Prix in downtown. Chris Ballestra, the city’s managing director of development coordination, touted the race as an “off the charts” opportunity for the city.

“There’s a staggering economic impact,” Ballestra said noting the $40 million impact and $5 million in direct impact. “We don’t have anything that compares.”

The event draws more than 1.5 million TV viewers across a number of stations worldwide. It will be broadcast locally on ABC. And the impressions associated with the Grand Prix trump other events because it’s directly tied to the Sunshine City.

Unlike baseball games and other events nationally or internationally televised, St. Petersburg is actually in the name – Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Other events are logged under the vague “Tampa Bay” classification. And any resident who travels know that the question “where are you from” has to sometimes be answered with Tampa, rather than St. Pete because it’s more widely recognized by outsiders. The Grand Prix is one event that could help shatter that conception.

Ballestra also reminds race fans to turn their clocks ahead. This year’s “Spring forward” beginning of Daylight Savings time begins in the wee morning hours of Sunday, March 13. If folks miss that change, they’ll miss race times.

The race is expected to draw about 140,000 people between race fans, media and participants. Tickets for the event run $55 for an adult 3-day pass. Single day admission is also available. Ticket prices increase for grandstand seating and paddock passes.

Tampa Bay Buccaneer defensive tackle and four-time pro-bowler Gerald McCoy was named this year’s Grand Marshal.

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St. Pete adopts changes to noise ordinance

St. Pete City Council finally came to consensus on an update to the city’s noise ordinance. The board approved a measure that requires bars and restaurants with outdoor noise projection to point the speakers toward its customers, not toward its neighbors.

Specifically, the ordinance requires the speakers to be permanently mounted and be directed away from residences.

The issue came up after a number of downtown St. Pete condo owners complained about booming noise from neighboring establishments well into the night.

An original ordinance proposed by City Council member Karl Nurse would have been far more strict requiring businesses to move speakers inside after 11 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on weekends. That measure was stalled last Spring when business owners and their employees complained the ordinance would be bad for business.

Council members Steve Kornell and Jim Kennedy, who backed the latest measure, initially hit the pause button worried onerous restrictions would stifle the burgeoning downtown nightlife scene.

Kornell said people wrongfully assumed he was anti-noise ordinance, but that was not the case.

“At one point there was an ordinance in front of us that would have prohibited talking on the sidewalk,” Kornell said. “That was not a balanced ordinance. That was a problematic ordinance.”

A handful of downtown residents pushing changes to the city’s noise ordinance were on hand during City Council’s Thursday meeting to support the latest compromise. Many of those same individuals had attended a number of meetings between the city, condo owners and businesses hashing out a deal that worked for everyone.

“We do support the various restaurants and night clubs downtown, but there has to be this critical balance,” said Dr. Mack Hicks of the Downtown Residents Civic Association echoing several similar statements by other downtown residents.

Based on public comment from those residents, the biggest offender is Tryst on Beach Drive. Residents in The Cloisters Beach Drive said the noise is often so loud it creeps into residents’ living rooms and bedrooms keeping those individuals up late into the night and often unable to have company.

And there was some sentiment that Tryst was being the ultimate bad neighbor. Council member Kornell said he went to Tryst one night and asked about the smaller speakers and toned down noise. He said he was told by an employee that the city was watching the establishment closely, but to wait a few weeks and the party would be back.

Kornell called the business “sneaky.”

Council member Jim Kennedy also claimed Tryst makes little to no effort to keep the sidewalk clear in front of its establishment despite language in the current ordinance requiring them to do so.

Supporters of the ordinance implored the city to ensure adequate enforcement of the updated ordinance.

“You can have ordinance but they have to be enforced,” Hicks said.

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New St. Pete Public Works Administrator officially welcomed to the Sunshine City

Claude Tankersley began his post as St. Pete’s public works administrator this month. During an unrelated workshop Thursday, City Council members officially welcomed him to the city.

“My motto is that it’s very important to keep the public in public works,” Tankersley said. “I like to make sure that I know our constituents as well as I can. When we have unfortunate crises, they’re more willing to help us find solutions.”

Tankersley’s statement is fitting considering the terms by which he enters the position. He arrives to the after inauspicious circumstances dogged his predecessor.

Mike Connors resigned abruptly in late summer after millions of gallons of raw and partially treated sewage was dumped into Clam Bayou, Tampa Bay, and the Eckerd College campus.

Prior to that, Connors was already being scrutinized for his work despite nearly three decades of service. The scrutiny followed a contentious selection process for a new Pier design where the most popular design chosen by survey was dismissed by the committee Connors led.

Tankersley will earn $149,000 annually. Connors’ salary was $140,000.

Tankersley joins St. Pete from the City of Bradenton where he served in a similar capacity. He began working with Bradenton in 2008. The year prior he earned the city’s Leadership Award. Tankersley has been a Florida Certified Professional Engineer since 1995 and is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers. He was named the Young Engineer of the Year in 1996.

Tankersley earned his Master’s of Science degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Florida in 1991.

Tankersley joins St. Pete’s leadership team in a swap of sorts with St. Pete Assistant Police Chief Melanie Bevan who left her longtime post with St. Pete to join the Bradenton Police Department as its chief.

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Bike share program heads to City Council for up or down vote

St. Pete City Council will decide whether or not to approve funding for a proposed bike share program. During a workshop Thursday approved via straw poll scheduling full City Council approval. A specific date was not specified.

The City and Mayor Rick Kriseman had called on City Council to approve $1.5 million for the program that would put stations in and around downtown. The money would be split three ways with $500,000 each coming from the city’s parking fees, transportation impact fees and BP oil spill settlement money.

During discussion Council member Jim Kennedy said he would support the expense, but asked that the funding structure be changed to eliminate using BP funds. That would mean parking and impact fees would divvy up $750,000 each.

The proposed program would initially include 30 stations with 300 bicycles. The bikes would be equipped with all of the necessary technology including GPS, a credit card payment mechanism and solar power to make everything run. And the city would own the bikes.

During a previous committee discussion City Council members asked if Tax Incremental funds could be used to fund the program. At the time the city’s legal staff said they weren’t sure and would look into it. During Thrursday’s discussion they said TIF dollars could not be used because the infrastructure necessary for the bike hubs are mobile and could be moved outside the TIF district. The bikes, obviously, are also mobile.

Still, City Council member Charlie Gerdes suggested some bike hubs could be placed permanently at places that make sense and asked that legal staff further investigate whether that portion of infrastructure could be funded through TIF.

Another issue brought up was liability, particularly as a result of users not wearing helmets. Cycle Hop said they looked at several ways to encourage helmet use. First, there will be safety messaging urging riders to wear a helmet. Second, they are considering offering various discounts for users to purchase their own helmet including having a free helmet included with an annual membership.

There are also kiosks that can be purchased to dispense helmets at bike hubs. However, the technology in those vending machines is still new and the cost relatively high – about $10,000.

In any case, city lawyers reminded the law only requires users under the age of 16 to wear a helmet. And contract negotiations with Cycle Hop, though not final, will include indemnification clauses reducing the city’s liability.

The company Cycle Hop would manage the bike share program. That’s the same company that manages Tampa’s bike share known as Coast.

The bikes would cost $8 for an hour of use for a walk-up customer. However, annual memberships provide options for yearly subscriptions making the cost much lower for those who expect to use the service more often. A $79 annual fee gets users an hour per day of bike usage. Members can also pay $15 per month to try the program out. $20 per month buys 90 minutes of usage per day.

In Tampa, Coast offers a student annual rate of just $59.

The city hopes to expand the program with each contract renewal. The initial contract runs for three years and includes the option for two three-year renewals. Evan Mory, the city’s parking and transportation manager, said he’d like to see 25 new bikes added with each renewal.

That would come at an additional cost to the city. Mory’s department estimates that could cost up to $1.2 million over the initial nine-year period. That figure is a worst case scenario, however. It assumes the city does not recoup any revenue from the program.

While any transportation program is expected to require a subsidy, the city is expected to offset some of the costs through ridership, sponsorship and advertising. Mory expects title sponsorship for the program to bring in about $300,000 and said there are already talks with some potential sponsors.

Mory said advertising is also an attractive opportunity for downtown businesses who don’t have access to much outdoor advertising.

Mory said he hopes to have a plan before City Council for approval in April with implementation sometime in the fall. Mory estimates the entire process should take about six months. He also said there will likely be “pop-up” stations testing the program before a final launch.

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City Council lays down preliminary 2017 budget priorities

St. Petersburg City Council members met Thursday to start early debate on how the city should allocate its money next week. During a workshop, each council member laid out priorities for the fiscal year 2017 budget.

Several council members, certainly enough for staff to pay attention to when writing the next budget, wanted to work toward lowering the city’s property tax rate. The current tax rate is at 6.77 mills – that means homeowners pay $6.77 per $1,000 of assessed value on their homes. That figure has risen slightly over the past several years. Councilman Jim Kennedy wants to get it back down to 5.9125.

For a homeowner in a house assessed at $150,000, that would save about $129 each year on their property tax bill.

During budget discussions last year leading up to the 2016 budget, St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman cautioned against a slight tax rate decrease because the change for homeowners would be so minimal it wouldn’t quite be worthwhile for the city’s loss of overall revenue. Instead, he recommended taking steps to reduce it in the future.

Now City Council seems to be taking that to heart.

“With the additional development that we’ve had and the increases in property value, that may be possible,” Kennedy said.

He suggested that city staff present council with two budgets: one with all of councilmembers’ wish lists and another at the lower tax rates so Council can see “the add-ons or the deletions to get us into that scenario.”

Charlie Gerdes agreed the tax rate should be re-visited. He made an impassioned plea to City administration to right-size the budget. The city’s operating budget of about $295 million is a number Gerdes said feels appropriate.

“I’d like to make sure we’re staying within that $295-$300 million number,” he said.

That, paired with Kennedy’s comments, is key. St. Petersburg is growing. Downtown developers are breaking ground more and more on residential facilities from affordable apartments to attract young professionals to high-end condos attracting well-off retirees. With more people owning,  more property tax revenue comes in.

Gerdes’ point is simple: Rather than sinking that money into more and more expenditures, give it back to the people by way of cutting taxes.

Of the seven council members present for the workshop, none put up a fight over the potential to reduce property taxes for St. Pete residents.

Economic development was also a top priority. Gerdes said, or perhaps threatened, that he’s “going to be the Wengay Newton of economic development” and particularly the city’s Grow Smarter strategy that includes attracting large companies that can employ people with high-wage careers.

He also said funding continued merit raises and salary increases for employees should be a top priority.

“It’s important to me for a number of reasons. One is retention of the talent we have and I want to make sure we stay on the road to getting the $15 minimum wage,” Gerdes said.

Lisa Wheeler-Brown gave a concise list of requests in the upcoming budget that included items both in and out of her district. She wants to see better work on potholes in District 7, her district, which includes Midtown and Childs Park.

She also asked that some further protections be put in place for City Hall security guards by funding devices like tasers or pepper spray.

“We all know what happened last week and that could have gone a lot different,” Wheeler-Brown said. She referred to the Feb. 4 outburst by the Uhuru group that led to City Hall being evacuated because someone left a bag behind. Out of precaution, the bag was deemed suspicious and police were called. It turned out to be just personal items.

Wheeler-Brown also asked for more emphasis on affordable housing, and not just in her district. Instead she hopes something can be done to increase efforts throughout the city.

She also asked for items pertaining to workforce readiness for graduating high school students and after school programs for juveniles.

Karl Nurse piggybacked on the idea of focusing on youth, particularly in poor neighborhoods.

“The overall conditions of the preschools are terrible,” Nurse said. “The majority are little more than a grandma with a television.”

According to Nurse, school readiness is one of the top problems facing failing schools in South St. Pete. And part of the problem with getting kids in those neighborhoods ready for kindergarten is a lack of access to good preschools.

To improve that, Nurse wants to look into funding programs that will provide higher wages for preschool teachers who make far below what Nurse described as even close to a living wage.

Nurse also recommended a way to free up more money in the city’s operating budget by using downtown Tax Incremental Funds for more projects rather than funding them through the city’s budget. That would help the city pay for repairs to its aging sewer system, which Nurse has made a top priority. He suggested making repairs any time a road is “redone.”

Homelessness and transportation were also brought up during budget discussions. Council Chairwoman Amy Foster, Kennedy and Wheeler-Brown all mentioned putting more focus on spending money to reduce childhood homelessness. Several references also were made to further transit progress by reducing bus wait times, and to complete streets and parking improvements.

City Council Co-Chairwoman Darden Rice gave a long list of wants for the 2017 budget. That included continuing to advocate for a Cuban consulate in St. Pete.

“Even if it were to go Tampa, I think regionally, that’s a real feather in our cap,” Rice said.

She also asked for $50,000 for a program to increase community outreach on the city’s wage theft ordinance to reach people the city isn’t currently reaching. She also said it’s possible to split that funding with the county.

In a particularly funny moment, Rice advocated for repainting the Crescent Lake Water Tower noting that she’d “like to not chain (herself) to the water tower to get it done.”

Rice also advocated for a program she plans to discuss in further detail later. Health in All policies, Rice said, incorporate health considerations in the decision-making process by looking at “complex factors that affect equity and health.”

Council Chairwoman Foster also asked for potential funding to supplement the city’s chronic nuisance ordinance that was passed but has not yet been implemented.

She also suggested looking into possible funding opportunities to invest in 18- to 26-year-olds to reduce gun violence.

Councilman Steve Kornell argued for efficient street improvements and for replacing the Shore Acres Recreation Center.

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Ed Montanari to undergo heart surgery

St. Pete City Council member Ed Montanari will be absent for meetings for “a few months.” Montanari announced in a letter to Council Wednesday and from the dais Thursday that he will be undergoing heart surgery later this month.

“I want to inform you that yesterday I was advised by my doctors that I will need to have surgery to repair a valve in my heart. My surgery has been scheduled for February 23rd, and the recovery time will last a few months,” Montanari wrote in a memo.

In addition to missing council meetings, Montanari said he will also be unable to attend public events. He assured Council members that he has “insured that the issues that need to be addressed in my absence will be covered.”

Montanari was just sworn into office last month. The operation he is undergoing is the result of a previous surgery in June that occurred just as he was elected unopposed.

“During my recovery, I will monitor all city council meetings in order to be informed of the matters that are important to St. Petersburg,” Montanari wrote.

Montanari made public his latest health issue during a City Council meeting Thursday. During a presentation from the American Heart Association Montanari thanked volunteers for their efforts and encouraged residents to be pro-active with their health. Prior to his heart issues, Montanari said he was running 2.5 miles each day completely unaware of a problem.

“I will be back in my office in a few months, and look forward to joining you as soon as possible to help make St Petersburg a better city for our current and future residents,” Montanari concluded.

Here is Montanari’s full letter to Council:

Dear City Council Chair Foster and Members of City Council,

I want to inform you that yesterday I was advised by my doctors that I will need to have surgery to repair a valve in my heart. My surgery has been scheduled for February 23rd, and the recovery time will last a few months.

Because of the significance of the operation, I will not be able to attend City Council meetings, or participate in any public events. Our city has been blessed with a great staff, and I have insured that the issues that need to be addressed in my absence will be covered.

During my recovery, I will monitor all city council meetings in order to be informed of the matters that are important to St. Petersburg.

I will be back in my office in a few months, and look forward to joining you as soon as possible to help make St Petersburg a better city for our current and future residents.

Very truly yours,

Ed Montanari, District 3

St Petersburg City Council

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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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