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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Tree program championed by former mayor gets money to plan, not plant

Former Mayor David Fischer, the city's tree czar, and some environmentalists, have advocated spending $500,000 of the city's BP settlement money on planting up to 550 trees across the city.

On Thursday, the City Council authorized spending a fraction of that amount---$25,0000---for planning and research, but decided to delay a decision on the balance until the city's finances become clearer.

Council member Charlie Gerdes said he supports the tree-planting proposal, but worries about a $2.8 million deficit reported by budget officials last week. The temporary deficit, drive by police overtime costs, often disappears by the end of the city's fiscal year at the end of September. 

But Gerdes said he wanted to be cautious.

"Go do all that," Gerdes said of the plannning efforts. "And give us a couple months to figure it out."

Council member Steve Kornell, the only council member to vote against the appropriation, said he resented what he perceived as some of the tree-planting supporters' dismissal of the need to spend BP money on replacing aging sewer pipes. 

Last summer, Kornell said, his district was the epicenter of millions of gallons of sewage dumped into Boca Ciega Bay and waterfront neighborhhoods. 

The city should have followed Pinellas County's model and solicited public input on how to spend the $6.5 million received from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, said council member Darden Rice. She lamented the months of fighting over how to spend the money.

The council spent months arguing over if a bike share program backed by Mayor Rick Kriseman should get BP money. After several tries, it eventually received $250,000. 

Several council members, including Kornell and Karl Nurse, have argued for spending a big chunk of the cash on repairing sewers.

"It's unfortunate that we get into a sum zero conversation about using BP money," Rice said.



[Last modified: Thursday, May 19, 2016 5:18pm]


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