St. Pete City Council members voted not to allocate $1.5 million of the $6.5 million paid out as a result of the BP oil spill settlement to pay for sewage infrastructure repairs at a meeting Monday evening.
Instead, the council voted 7-0 to ask staff to come back next week with a resolution highlighting the city’s commitment to increasing funding for the projects.
At issue is whether or not the city should use BP settlement funds for sewage repairs or instead allocate that money to other projects in the city. City Council member Karl Nurse, who has been the most vocal about spending BP funds on sewers, was the one who made the motion not to allocate the money at this time.
The decision came after a flurry of public comment showing residents are concerned about how the BP money is spent. Other suggestions for the money proposed for sewers included more money for the arts including Mayor Rick Kriseman’s proposed $1million endowment using BP funds, youth program and other economic stabilization uses in South St. Pete and homelessness.
Prominent community activist Momma Tee Lassiter suggested splitting the BP funds up evenly throughout each district in the City. She lambasted council for not taking bigger strides in improving the impoverished Midtown and Childs Park neighborhood and likened the city’s use of funds to running a family.
“When you’re running a family you all have got to look out for everybody,” Lassiter said.
The resolution City Council voted to ask for would also include provisions about ensuring commitment to a long-term study evaluating what the city needs to shore up its crumbling sewer infrastructure.
“The good news is that this is forcing us to have the conversation about how to we pay to upgrade our sewer system,” Nurse said.
The conversation is also hot on the heels of another last week during a committee meeting in which voting councilmembers unanimously approved spending the $1.5 million on sewers – $500,000 more than Kriseman had proposed. During that same meeting, however, some council members expressed concern about spending one-time money on recurring costs.
During that meeting Darden Rice called the idea “wrongheaded,” though she was not a voting member of the committee. During this Monday’s meeting Rice said she heard the voices of the people loud and clear on “hitting the pause button.” But she worried the discussion was pitting key city issues against one another.
“We can prioritize,” she reminded members.
The resolution is expected to come back to council next Thursday. It’s not clear when, or if, the council will re-evaluate spending BP funds on sewers following that meeting.