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St. Pete City Council committee wants to spend $1.5 million on sewers

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

A St. Pete City Council committee voted Monday to spend $1.5 million of the total $6.5 million awarded the city as a result of a settlement in the BP oil spill disaster.

St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman had recommended spending $1 million for infrastructure repairs and replacement.

Earlier discussions about the BP oil spill award showed some City Council members wanted to spend more of the money on immediate repairs in the wake of 31 million gallons of raw and partially treated sewage being dumped into Tampa Bay, Clam Bayou and the Eckerd College campus after a heavy rain event in early August.

Currently there are $15 million worth of work that needs to be done to make immediate repairs in order to avoid another sewage dump. City Council member Karl Nurse is among those who want to spend money right away.

However a memo sent out last week from City Administrator Gary Cornwell recommended City Council vote to borrow funds rather than take a pay as you go approach to repairs and suggested BP funds not be used for ongoing expenses, but rather on one-time projects.

In addition to recommending that City Council borrow the $15 million needed for immediate repairs he also said it’s possible to reallocate money from $30 million in existing bonds.

The memo explained that borrowing was advisable because increases in sewer rates would be “negligible.”

Cornwell sent the memo after receiving results of several scenarios addressing the city’s crumbling sewage infrastructure and hearing from some members of City Council, including Karl Nurse and Charlie Gerdes, in which members thought it may be more appropriate to spend at least half the BP settlement funds on sewage.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, neither Nurse nor Gerdes changed their minds following the memo last week. Nurse echoed that in a Budget Finance and Taxation meeting Thursday morning.

Darden Rice called the idea of spending one-time settlement funds on recurring expenses a good intention, but said it was still a bad idea noting that the issue has been politicized to a level above sound fiscal policy decisions. Rice, however, is not a voting member of the BF&T committee.

The board did not take up the issue during a City Council meeting later in the afternoon. It’s likely they will take a vote later this year.

The city is currently studying the aging system. That report is expected in March.

Though the committee approved an amount only slightly higher than Kriseman’s proposal for BP funds, the memo urging council not to spend BP money on sewers wasn’t mentioned much.

In a Times story last week, Nurse compared financing to making a repair to a private residence insinuating homeowners wouldn’t likely finance such a repair. During the meeting Monday he reiterated that financing doesn’t make sense.

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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