City of St. Petersburg budget up for vote on Thursday; $10 million shortfall to be addressed

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After a grassroots campaign aiming to get public feedback on the city’s budget and three budget workshops, St. Pete’s 2013 fiscal year budgeting process is almost complete, reports William Mansell of Patch.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, the city will host its first of two public hearings on the 2013 budget at City Hall.

City council will vote on the 2013 budget and tax rate during the first public hearing. Then, at the Sept. 27 hearing, residents will be allowed a second opportunity to comment on the proposed spending plan before a final vote is taken.

At the center of the debate is how to come up with $10 million to cover the budget shortfall in 2013, which has a $472 million budget. The city has approved the parameters and use of a fire readiness fee that would tax all parcels in the city.

Those who call the fire tax a regressive tax, such as council member Steve Kornell, are clamoring for the city to increase the millage rate.

“I’ve been a steady no on this,” Kornell said at a July council meeting. “I feel that it’s regressive and harms poor people on the front end and on the back end with non-profit and churches who also help poor people.”

Council member Charlie Gerdes agreed.

“I think that when it comes to funding the necessities of government, which certainly fire is, I still believe the least number of ways that we are able to reach into a constituents pocket is better,” Gerdes said. “My policy would be to raise the millage rate. Use the mechanism that already exits.”

Budget cuts alone, have not been seriously discussed since the first public budget workshop in April.

Should the fire readiness fee not hold up in court or council not formally approve it Thursday, the council did approve the parameters of a millage increase earlier this summer.

“This option is available for council to set in the event that the fire readiness fee option is unavailable,” said Budget and Management Director Richard Bulger at a July council meeting. “Between the fire readiness fee and the millage … both will generate roughly the same revenue.”

During that meeting council approved to set the 2013 millage rate at 6.7742 mills should the fire tax fail.

In March, the People’s Budget Review launched. Aiming to get 10,000 city voices on the city’s budget — it has nearly 6,000 — the group will announce the results of its latest budget survey at the Sept. 13 hearing.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.