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Rick Kriseman’s 2016 budget aims to lift up South St. Pete

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman released his 2016 budget this week. The $607 million budget is up more than 3 percent from 2015.

As Kriseman outlined in a summary of the budget posted on the city’s website, his proposal contains three major changes from 2015. City employees stand to earn an extra three percent on their paychecks under the proposed budget. City employees have been pleading for a raise throughout the series of budget listening tours this year. Kriseman’s administration had originally planned a two percent increase, but after being told over and over that was insufficient, hiked the amount and announced it in a video message.

There will also be about $285,000 pumped into the newly created South St. Pete Community Redevelopment Area. The projected figure comes from information from the county property appraiser’s office.

“The city will utilize these resources to address a range of issues facing our citizens in this area: insufficient transportation, limited access to food, lower educational attainment, limited access to health care, increased crime rates, high unemployment, and inadequate and insufficient housing,” Kriseman explained in the budget packet sent to City Council members.

He said the fund will be used with a goal of ending “systemic racism.”

Another highlight Kriseman picked out is a $3.5 million appropriation for a new fire station in Fossil Park.

“Well-crafted budgets illustrate priorities,” Kriseman wrote. “They reflect values and advance vision.”

St. Pete Police will make out well under the mayor’s proposed budget. It includes an increase of $322,000 for “diversity, safety and impartial policing training.” Overtime funds to the tune of $300,000 will be restored to the department as well as $460,000 for new gadgets like plate readers, cameras, tasers and radios. Another $159,000 will go toward a reserve unit.

The budget also includes $510,000 for youth employment including $300,000 for summer youth employement. That represents a $25,000 increase over this year’s funding levels. Other youth employment funds would be used for the Read to Me program, after school employment and workforce readiness.

The arts community in St. Pete will get an $87,000 increase over 2015, bringing total arts funding to $250,000.

Library spending will increase by more than $150,000 under Kriseman’s proposed budget. That includes additional materials for libraries and converting four part-time positions to full-time. Another $1 million will go toward infrastructure improvements at some city libraries, including parking lot improvements at the Main Library.

Kriseman’s budget also includes nearly $650,000 in new investments for planning and economic development. Of that, about $70,000 will go toward a “deal maker” position planned to focus on large and small-scale city projects. Another $100,000 will be put into the city’s Grow Smarter Strategy with the St. Pete Chamber of Commerce as well as $250,000 neighborhood commercial public private partnerships and $200,000 for the Rebates for Rehab program.

A significant amount of money is going into the city’s Bio Solids program. More than $57 million will be spent on the construction of  state-of-the-art facilities at the South West Water Reclamation Facility to “process all of the city’s biosolids and to produce renewable gas.”

The budget includes plans to put $1 million into reserves. Kriseman is proposing maintaining the current property tax rates collected by the city instead of raising them. Even without a millage rate hike the city still stands to bring in more than $7 million more in property tax revenue than this year.

St. Pete City Council will vote on the recommended millage rate at its meeting on July 23.

There will be two public hearings before council votes on the mayor’s budget. The first is September 3 at 6:30 p.m. and another is September 17.

Technically, if council rejects a budget and one is not approved by October 1 the city would shut down. However, that’s extremely unlikely. Kriseman and Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin have been meeting individually with council members for weeks discussing budget plans.

The city has also participated in a number of public forums on the “Budget Listening Tour.”

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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