St. Pete City Council Archives - Page 2 of 30 - SaintPetersBlog

St. Pete City Council to vote on ten programs geared to boost South St. Pete

St. Pete City Council will vote on a resolution supporting ten items aimed at improving conditions on the Southside at its meeting Thursday. The items are 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.

An Affordable Multifamily Housing Development program would provide yearly property tax rebates for up to fifteen years on increases to property taxes for those who develop new or substantially renovated affordable multifamily housing.

The maximum award for this project is $50,000 per project and must be approved by City Council. Projects must meet the city’s standard of affordable housing defined as households with an income of 80 percent or below the medial household income. Those numbers are based on the Florida Housing Finance Corporation’s SHIP program.

The City Council item Thursday also includes a Residential Property Improvement Grant program that would reimburse applicants for eligible exterior and interior improvements to affordable or market-rate residential housing. Emphasis would be put on projects that would extend the economic life of a structure.

The maximum grant per unit is $10,000 with a maximum $90,000 per project. Applicants must invest a minimum of $10,000 to qualify for a grant. This project is intended to supplement a grant program already available through the city in order to incentivize major rehabilitation programs in the CRA where blight is a consistent problem and weighs heavily on low property values.

Under the proposal a Commercial Site Improvement Grant would also be available to commercial property owners who upgrade their building’s exterior visible to the public. Applicants can receive one of four matching grants of up to $20,000. Properties listed on the Local Register of Historic Places could also be eligible for matching grants up to $40,000 if the work complies with the city’s Historic Preservation Ordinance.

A similar grant program would be available to commercial property owners making improvements to the interior of property.

The final grant program provides up to $50,000 for projects that enhance established business districts within the Southside CRA by either redeveloping, decreasing vacancy rates, adding to the tax base, creating jobs, leveraging private sector investment or improving the quality of life through removal of blight. This grant would be part of a Public Private Partnership.

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.

A CRA grant matching program would provide a local match for federal, state and other grant applications for programs part of the Southside redevelopment plan. Allocations for these grants would be determined either annually or as needed and would have to conform to the county’s policy governing use of Tax Incremental Funds.

A Property Acquisition and Preparation Program would use a combination of city and TIF revenues to buy properties within the CRA to promote housing, economic development and community revitalization. The program could also include demolishing existing structures or relocating utilities.

Another program would create a South St. Pete loan pool available to residents and businesses within the CRA. The program is intended to ensure residents and business owners are able to obtain conventional loans.

A program called “Paint Your Heart Out” provides funding to help residents and businesses paint the exterior of their structures. It encourages partnership with groups like Habitat for Humanity, Leadership St Pete and the Dream Center. Funding amounts would be determined annually.

And finally, a Workforce Readiness and Development Program would provide annual funding to educational and job training providers to increase job readiness and opportunities for CRA residents. Examples of eligible entities include Career Source, Pinellas Technical College and St. Petersburg College.

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St. Pete City Council still unsure about bike share

St. Pete City Council appeared to still be on a fence during a workshop discussing a proposed bike share program that would cost the city $1.5 million. The board agreed Thursday, though not by formal vote, to refer the conversation to a Public Services and Infrastructure committee meeting Feb. 25.

City Council will vote officially to schedule the committee item at its Feb 4 meeting.

The $1.5 million city request would be broken up three ways to equally tap parking fees, transportation impact fees and a portion of the funding awarded as part of the BP oil settlement.

City staff had hoped for a more positive discussion surrounding the issue. Mayor Rick Kriseman had originally proposed using $1 million from the BP settlement for the program, which got pushback from some council members who thought it wise to use a majority if not all of the $6.5 million on wastewater infrastructure improvements desperately needed in the city. Cutting the request in half seemed a more palatable funding request, but there were still questions.

Councilman Karl Nurse, who has pushed hard for using BP money for wastewater projects, questioned why the city couldn’t tap tax incremental funds established for downtown infrastructure. That’s a question that will likely be answered at PS&I after the city’s legal staff has had an opportunity to vet whether purchasing infrastructure for a bike share program qualifies as a TIF expenditure.

Jim Kennedy said he was disappointed the staff report didn’t include a business model.

“I have a hard time spending $1.5 million if I can’t understand the long-range business plan,” he said.

Kennedy explained there were several unanswered questions like how many riders are needed to make the program financially solvent.

“I don’t envision profits here,” Kennedy said.

Staff laid out rebuttals to many of the questions. Sponsorship opportunities and advertising revenue could offset any deficiency.

Council members Steve Kornell and Lisa Wheeler-Brown each presented broader questions about the wisdom of putting that much money into one project isolated to areas in and near downtown.

Wheeler-Brown, who represents one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, asked that the city look into pushing the boundaries of the initial phase of the project further south into Midtown and South St. Pete.

Parking and transportation manager Evan Mory suggested that was already in the works in an interview Wednesday with SaintPetersblog.

Kornell raised the issue of creating better and safer bike infrastructure in general. However, that idea was later indirectly rebuked by council vice-chair and unabashed bike-share supporter Darden Rice who asked that a proposed bike-share project not be placed at the mercy of other failing transit throughout the region.

Early in the meeting bike enthusiasts had pointed out that bike-share programs could be a valuable tool in illustrating the need for more robust cycling infrastructure. And the city is committed to continuing Complete Streets initiatives that would not only work to make roadways more aesthetic, they would also provide better transportation opportunities for pedestrians and cyclists.

The city is pushing for a bike share program largely to increase transportation options in and near downtown and to reduce congestion and parking need.

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.

According to Mory, that gives St. Pete better access to data in order to track where the program is most successful.

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 frequent. 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 have the issue brought before City Council in March in order to prepare for a soft launch in late summer and full launch in October.

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Here’s what to expect in St. Pete City Council’s bike share discussion

The St. Petersburg City Council will likely set a date Thursday to decide whether to fund the first phase of a bike-share program in the city. At a council workshop, city staff is set to deliver a more than 60-page slideshow laying out how the program will work, how much it will cost, where bikes would be available, and benefits likely to be achieved.

But don’t wait for the meeting to get those details. According to Evan Mory, the city’s director of parking and transportation, the city is asking for just $500,000 from the overall $6.5 million awarded through the BP oil spill settlement. That’s half of what Mayor Rick Kriseman had originally requested.

Another $1 million to fully fund the program would be derived $500,000 each from the city’s transportation impact fees and parking fees. City Council would have to appropriate those expenditures, too.

This issue began a contentious one, with some City Council members worrying $1 million for bike share was too much to spend out of the BP money at a time when the city was grappling to pay for sweeping improvements to its wastewater infrastructure.

Now that the ask has been halved, though, City Council members may be keener to approve the expenditure.

And Mory plans to make a strong argument for bike share, namely that it’s a way to increase transportation options in and around downtown where mobility in cars is becoming increasingly more difficult, through increased traffic and more scarce parking.

The city is making strides in trying to encourage visitors to downtown to ditch their cars as much as possible; bike share is one more way to make that happen. And the purpose of BP money was to support sustainability issues. Cycling fits that bill by reducing the city’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Kriseman said during his recent State of the City address, what better way to spend BP money than to create a program that reduces the city’s need for BP?

And there is plenty of community support for the initiative. Cesar Morales is heading up a local group called BP for Bike Share.

“It’s not just health, it’s not just sustainability, it’s economic as well,” Morales said.

He explained several ways adding bikes to the downtown transportation mix could boost the economy. For starters, many out-of-town visitors who stay downtown isolate themselves to the Beach Drive area. With bikes, they suddenly have the ability to expand their St. Pete adventure to places like Tropicana Field and the Edge District, Grand Central and the Warehouse Arts District.

“This isn’t just recreational,” he said.

And there’s another argument for bike share City Council members may find appealing – boosting economic viability in South St. Pete.

Both City Council and Mayor Kriseman have made improving impoverished conditions, particularly in Midtown, a top priority. The word “Deuces” gets thrown around a lot when talking about economic growth. That describes areas along 22nd Street South.

It abuts the growing Warehouse Arts District, the booming 3 Daughters Brewery and it includes downtown Midtown. There’s a newly opened St. Petersburg College Campus and Chief’s Creole Café. And there’s The Deuces Barbeque.

Patrick Collins is the owner. He’s a white guy with a barbecue joint in a mostly black community. He didn’t’ exactly fit the Midtown stereotype. But Collins saw promise in the corridor and vibrancy in the neighborhood.

Collins is frustrated at the lack of connectivity to nearby districts like Edge and Grand Central. The downtown looper skips his block. And the Central Avenue Trolley does too.

“If we’re good enough for a bike stop, are we good enough for a trolley stop,” Collins said making the argument that bike share in Midtown may be a stepping stone to more robust transit in the area.

According to Mory, Midtown will get at least one bike share station in the preliminary stages of the program. The city partnered with an outside firm to evaluate where stations should be.

They determined the 30 stations and 300 bikes initially planned for the program will be spread among downtown, Grand Central, the Deuces and areas north and south of downtown like Coffee Pot Bayou and near USFSP and Bayfront and All Children’s hospitals.

The city went through a Request for Proposal process in which four companies bid on the job of managing the program. Of those, three were considered. Mory and his crew are recommending Cycle Hop, the same company that operates Tampa’s bike share program. The idea is to create a regionally supported program.

The city also chose to go with a program where the technology for the bikes – GPS, payment processing, etc. – is located on the bikes rather than having fuller-service kiosks.

This way, Mory said, the city is cutting costs, and it will be able to own the bikes. It also gives the city better access to data from the bikes to determine where they are most popular.

If the program is successful, which Mory anticipates it will be, the goal is to expand the program eventually to other parts of the city.

The current proposal includes a three-year contract with Cycle Hop to run the program. If the city is satisfied with the company near the end of that initial contract, they can renew for another three years.

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Yard waste grinding services in St. Pete raise questions about competitive bidding

St. Pete City Council went ahead and approved a three-year contract with Consolidated Resource Recovery, Inc. for yard waste grinding services despite some concerns raised about the lack of competition for the job and the overall cost effectiveness.

The contract would have sailed to swift approval without an iota of discussion had it not been yanked from the consent agenda by former City Council chair Charlie Gerdes.

Gerdes questioned whether or not the city could use the $427,700 minimum annual cost to instead purchase grinding equipment and take care of the service in-house.

He estimated that two used yard waste grinders would cost about $500,000 and figured doing it independently rather than outsourcing the work could create jobs for at-risk youth who could bag the resulting mulch for sale at $1 a bag.

The city currently gives most of the mulch away for free.

“I was raising it as a possible way to create some employment,” Gerdes said. “I just thought it was a low-tech business that had a constant demand – people are buying mulch all the time.”

Gerdes even came up with a potential name should the city get into the business of selling mulch – Sunshine City Mulch.

But Gerdes’ proposal comes with some concerns – namely that maintaining the grinders is costly and difficult. According to the city the machines are extremely specialized and require near daily maintenance because logs placed into them tear up the machine’s innards.

Regardless of the potential setbacks, Gerdes’ question did prompt some action. The version of the contract approved by City Council includes a way out of the contract if the city so decides.

And it raised questions about the competitiveness of all city bids, not just this one.

Only one company bid for the yard waste-grinding gig and that’s not uncommon. According to city staff, it happens fairly frequently, mostly with specialized services like air conditioning.

City Council member Steve Kornell compared it to the carts used by School Resource Officers on school campuses he said cost more than his car.

“I know we’re doing things legally,” Kornell said. “But are we getting the best deal?”

City staff left with the promise to look into the city’s bidding process and to possibly identify ways to create more competition.

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St. Pete City Council finalizes W-Architecture for Pier Approach design

St. Pete City Council unanimously approved W-Architecture to lead design and construction administration services for the Pier Approach project. The vote allocates $500,000 from the Downtown Redevelopment District Fund into the General Capital Improvement Fund to pay for concept design services and other project costs.

The total cost for the initial design phase is not to exceed $318,030, however. The amount will come out of the $20 million budget set aside for the Pier Approach project.

W-Architecture along with the local firm Wannemacher-Jensen, was selected from a shortlist of firms in October. They beat out Rogers Partners and ASD Architects for the project despite that team being the selected group to carry out design and construction administration for the new Pier.

The firm will be responsible for establishing a design concept for the Pier Approach that is symbiotic with the planned design for the Pier formerly known as Pier Park. Though a design concept has not been established, some basic parameters have been.

The downtown waterfront master plan includes some specifications to the area serving as a grand entryway to the Pier and a transition between Beach Drive and Bayshore Boulevards to the Pier. It will likely include areas for public art, an open-air market and two restaurants.

The design concept phase is expected to take about four or five months with immediate outreach to stakeholders like downtown museums and the St. Pete Chamber of Commerce. Though designs for the new Pier are already well-underway, the city expects the Pier Approach project to quickly catch up.

The city expects it to take about a year to obtain environmental permits for the Pier Approach, which will help align the two projects’ timelines.

The city is currently soliciting a construction manager at-risk for the project. Skanska was already chosen for the Pier project. If a different company is selected for the approach, the two will have to work closely with one another to align the two projects.

“The idea is for the public not to know where the line is,” said city architect Raul Quintana about the transition between the Pier Approach and the Pier.

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Charlie Gerdes wants to turn dead leaves into teen jobs

St. Pete City Council will hear a staff report pertaining to the city’s estimated 40,000 tons of yard waste dumped at the city’s brush sites each year. A sole bidder, Consolidated Resource Recovery, is asking for more than $427,000 each year to grind that waste into mulch.

That works out to $329 per hour for the service.

It’s one of those items that typically flies under the radar and is approved in a blanket motion to approve items on the city’s consent agenda. This particular contract would be valid for three years and contains a provision that allows for an even higher price tag depending on the cost of diesel fuel.

But the agreement may not sail to easy adoption as expected. According to the Tampa Bay Times, City Council member Charlie Gerdes has a better idea – purchase the equipment, grind the brush in-house and sell it for $1 a bag.

Gerdes, who removed the item from consent last week, suggested it was a way to cut costs, possibly make a buck and even employ extra workers.

Those jobs, he said, could go to at-risk youth.

Gerdes reasoning is sound. The cost to purchase two grinders for the city is about $500,000 – only slightly more than the annual cost of paying another company to turn residents’ yard clippings into mulch.

At-risk teens in the city could then bag the mulch and sell it for far less than what residents would pay at a home improvement store. Gerdes told the Times it “looks like an entrepreneurial opportunity.”

As it is, the city collects yard waste at one of the city’s five brush sites. Materials are then transported to the Lake Maggiore site by the city where they are grinded. Currently, much of the recycled materials are given out as free mulch with others being used for things like sod, compost and bio-mass fuel.

According to the Times, Gerdes is recommending that the city approve a one year contract instead of three so that the city can look into the viability of processing yard waste in house.

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St. Pete City Council approves Rays deal

The Tampa Bay Rays can begin the long-awaited process of looking for a new stadium site outside of St. Pete in Pinellas or Hillsborough County. St. Pete City Council approved a new Memorandum of Understanding 5-3.

Council voted as many expected with veteran council members and longtime deal naysayers Steve Kornell and Jim Kennedy rejecting the latest proposal. New council member Ed Montanari joined the two in voting against the deal.

Newly elected council member Lisa Wheeler-Brown was the deciding vote this time around. Her predecessor, Wengay Newton, was the fourth previous no-vote keeping a deal from moving forward.

The new MOU includes a maximum payout to the city should the Rays decide to vacate the Trop before the Use Agreement expires in 2027 is $24 million. That includes $4 million payable to the city in for 2018, $3 million for 2019-2022, and $2 million for 2023-2026. Under the agreement, the Rays can’t leave the city before 2018.

While monetary compensation to the city is roughly the same under the new deal as the original one rejected by council in early 2015, it does contain some enticements to keep the Rays in the ‘Burg.

If the Rays break their lease on Tropicana Field before it’s expired, St. Pete still would keep all of the development rights to the 85-acre swath of land. But if the Rays decide to call St. Pete home past the current Use Agreement, they would be entitled to half of that revenue plus interest from an interest-bearing escrow account.

Even if they chose to leave the city after the lease expires, the team could still keep half of the proceeds minus interest.

This serves as a valuable bargaining tool for the city in making a case for keeping the team on the St. Pete side of the Bay because it’s money that could be used to build a new stadium, estimated at a cost of $600 million.

“It also requires the team to give the city written notice of their intentions related to the stadium site or forfeit the funds that are in the escrow account,” Mayor Rick Kriseman said.

He explained that businesses shy away from area surrounding Tropicana Field because for years there has been uncertainty looming in the stadium saga. St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce President Chris Steinocher hammered that point home.

“Stalemate is not an option,” Steinocher said during public comment on the issue. “The business community demands certainty.”

And City Council member Charlie Gerdes, who has been in favor of reaching a deal with the Rays since 2012 said there have already been businesses the city has had to turn away from that site. Those, he lamented, are opportunities the city will never get back.

“You have to look at the opportunity, not the cost,” Gerdes continued.

But three City Council members did look at the cost. Kennedy scolded the media and even the Kriseman administration for continuing to push the deal as one worth $24 million if the team leaves.

“In reality, it’s probably closer to a $10 million number,” Kennedy said.

He explained that’s because the $24 million payout assumes the Rays leave Tropicana Filed in 2018. Kennedy said that scenario isn’t likely to happen, and instead, the team would leave, if that’s their determination, much later.

And Kornell, whose opposition to deals reached with the Rays have earned him a rabid attack from the Tampa Bay Times, returned fire on the newspaper questioning whether economic development on the Tropicana Field site is really worth the $1 billion the Times estimates.

Even Kriseman agreed that number was speculative, pending a detailed evaluation of the site.

That evaluation will be included in a Tropicana Field development master plan. The new agreement a requirement that the Rays pay up to $100,000 toward that plan refundable to the team if they paid the termination fee.

City Council member Karl Nurse has long been in favor of reaching an agreement with the Major League Baseball team, but that was a new provision he quite liked.

“Can we start tomorrow … please,” Nurse half-joked.

Kriseman explained the master plan will be developed in much the same way the city developed the downtown waterfront master plan. There the city held numerous public outreach events seeking comment from residents. They also held a Request for Proposal bidding process to select a firm to create the plan.

It’s a process that isn’t likely to happen overnight, but Kriseman did say the city would start the ball rolling right away.

Kriseman did not address members of the meeting immediately following the vote, but issued a statement later.

“I want to thank our City Council for approving this important Memorandum of Understanding with the Tampa Bay Rays. This agreement is good news for baseball fans, for our taxpayers, for the city of St. Petersburg, and for our entire region,” Kriseman said. I still believe the team’s current site, reimagined and redeveloped, is the best place for a new stadium, and I look forward to making the case for the Sunshine City.”

And Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg and President Brian Auld held a news conference at Tropicana Field immediately after the vote.

“We’re going to do everything we can to ensure baseball is here for a very long time,” Sternberg said.

That was a sentiment he echoed several times during remarks to City Council before the vote. During that address, Sternberg apologized for the long-running “rhetoric” and promised that all parties were working in the best interest of everyone.

While Sternberg maintained an overall positive attitude toward St. Pete as his baseball home, he did leave vague what exactly he meant by “here.” It wasn’t exactly clear whether he was specifically referencing St. Pete or being intentionally ambiguous so as not to rule out other parts of Pinellas or Hillsborough.

“I don’t’ have any nervousness or anticipation that it’s a scam to look other places,” Gerdes reaffirmed.

And during his conference, Sternberg gave no indication that he had already hit the go button. Asked whether he had any sites already in mind, Sternberg answered, “not yet.” Asked whether he had already received a call from Hillsborough County, Sternberg deflected the question saying he had not yet checked his phone.

Sternberg and Auld both said they aren’t sure how long it will take the team to develop a criteria for selecting a new site or keeping staying at the Trop though the approved MOU requires that criteria in writing within 60 days.

“We intend to take a completely fresh look at the stadium building process,” Auld said.

Sternberg also reminded reporters, this is the first time the team has been in this kind of situation.

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Rays stadium saga finale: How long will it take?

If there is one thing reporters and the most civically engaged of St. Pete residents know it’s that high-profile topics coming up at 3 p.m. City Council meetings spell one very, very late night.

I once had to watch my oldest daughter’s school play that she had been rehearsing for months with one eye on my laptop at the very back of the auditorium with one earbud in because an 8:30 a.m. meeting had dragged on well into the evening. That time it was The Pier.

Another time, I stayed up until 1:30 a.m. listening to a tired City Council that had been in and out of meetings since early that morning debate whether or not to make it easier for neighborhoods to kick off the historic designation process.

I can’t count how many times I’ve been up watching City Council well into the late night hours because there were dozens upon dozens of public speakers and marathon debates among disagreeing council members.

So the question I have today, and probably several other of my City Hall brethren, is — how long will I be listening tonight as Council prepares to vote on the latest in the Tampa Bay Rays stadium saga?

I’ve got to say, I’m cautiously optimistic. For starters, one of the most bullheaded council members on this topic, and one known for his ability to ignore the time, is no longer on the dais. Wengay Newton may show up with his two-cents, but this time around he’ll be given only three minutes to speak on the topic just like everyone else who’s not an elected council member.

Steve Kornell and Jim Kennedy may put up a fight, but they probably know they’re outnumbered and unlikely to woo anyone to their side. Certainly, each will offer reasoning for continuing to oppose the Mayor’s latest deal with the Tampa Bay Rays to let the major league baseball team search for alternative stadium sites. They’ll probably say a thing or two about protecting the taxpayer.

Ed Montanari and Lisa Wheeler-Brown have never had the privilege of debating the issue from the dais, so they might have a bit to add.

And I imagine there will be a decent number of people showing up to speak on the subject.

But, while I’m not saying it’s going to be a three-up/three-down sort of inning for Council, I’m also not banking on extra innings this time around.

As always, recognition to various people and groups comes very first at the meeting. This week there are five. Typically speaking, those honors usually take about ten minutes each and then the Rays issue is up.

That is the only item on the agenda. On second thought, maybe someone is anticipating those extra innings after all. Follow me on Twitter to follow along with my banter on the topic and see if my long, but not too long prediction holds up.

For the record, I get funnier with each passing hour.

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St. Pete City Council furthers talk on fossil fuel divestment

St. Petersburg City Council members are considering divesting the city from fossil fuels. During a meeting Thursday, the eight-member board voted unanimously to refer to the Budget, Finance and Taxation Committee a divestment measure recommended by Mayor Rick Kriseman.

The measure would affect city pensions where investments are currently placed strategically to incur the most financial benefit. City Council approval of the issue would remove fossil fuel industries from those investments.

Kriseman pushed the issue as a way to encourage sustainability, specifically renewable energy. A few residents and community partners spoke during public comment in support of the measure.

“Years ago many of us thought that climate change would happen someday, but it turns out that someday is now,” said Mackenzie Avallone of the group Environment Florida. “That’s why our city needs to act swiftly and boldly.”

She explained the first step to curbing carbon emissions that lead to global warming is to making sure the city doesn’t remain a part of the problem implying that by continuing to place key investments in fossil fuels, the city is doing just that.

Though the vote to further the conversation was unanimous, new City Councilman Ed Montanari expressed concerns.

“I don’t think that it would be good policy for a city council to start directing investment policy,” Montanari said. “It gets to a level of micromanagement that we shouldn’t be doing.”

And whether or not the city even can do that isn’t clear. City Councilman Jim Kennedy asked whether the council had the jurisdiction to direct pension boards on investments. The answer from the city’s legal staff was simple: They just aren’t sure yet.

“We’re looking into that,” said city attorney Jackie Kovilaritch. “I can’t give you an answer on it.”

Again expressing reservations, Montanari defended the fossil fuel industry.

“They’re one of the biggest investors when it comes to renewable energy,” he said.

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St. Pete City Council approves biosolids project funding

St. Pete City Council approved approximately $67 million for upgrades to the city’s biosolids program. The Biosolids and Waste to Energy Project is expected to make the city’s wastewater treatment procedures more sustainable and come with significant savings.

“The Biosolids and Waste to Energy Project will provide a means to produce a sustainable Class A biosolids suitable for use as a soil amendment, reduce operational costs for biosolids processing by consolidating operations at the [Southwest Water Reclamation Facility], provide needed replacement of worn and obsolete equipment, produce renewable biogas fuel to power vehicles and produce electrical energy for facility operations, and reduce the city’s carbon footprint,” a City Council supplement on the issue read.

The vote included five separate expenditures. The largest of which is to the Haskell Company for just under $65 million designating the company as the project’s Construction Manager at Risk.

A second amendment to the construction manager at risk agreement with the Haskell Company with a GMP just under $65 million. Another $1.6 million will go to the company Brown and Caldwell for construction phase services. The rest of the planned expenditures on the project will go to other construction services from AECOM, Black and Veatch Corporation and Carollo Engineers.

The project is expected to be online by 2019.

Though approved, the project did not come without questions. Several residents around Eckerd College where a current treatment plant leaves quite the stench spoke on the project with concerns that foul smells would continue with increased infrastructure.

“Eckerd has a set of dorms they can keep freshman in because by the time they’re sophomores they know better because it stinks so bad,” Council member Steve Kornell said, echoing concerns.

City staff assured council, however, that several measures would be taken to ensure stinky water treatment was reduced. The project includes facilities for odor control as well as enclosed areas for things like dewatering that are currently done in the open and lead to foul smells.

The project comes with about $3.7 million of operational savings each year that will kick off when the new facilities come online. About $1.5 million of those savings will be realized when factoring in payments to money borrowed for the project.

Kornell questioned whether those savings could be used to fund future improvements to the city’s water infrastructure without raising utility rates for residents. Staff suggested that was a possibility, but wouldn’t commit one way or the other.

Water issues in St. Pete long buried in the news as one of the most non-sexy of city government issues became a common headline last summer after the city dumped millions of gallons of raw and partially treated sewage into local waterways after an extraordinary rain event that left the city’s infrastructure overburdened.

One of the issues that arose during that event was that the city had taken offline a facility at Albert Whitted Airport.

“We closed capacity at Albert Whitted before we opened capacity to replace it at Southwest,” Council member Charlie Gerdes said noting that the city had dropped the ball with that decision.

He clarified that such a reduction in capacity would not occur with this project.

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