Budget surveys in St. Pete
The People's Budget Review, a coalition of neighborhood groups, civic organizations and union members, has launched its annual effort to engage residents on upcoming budget talks.
More than 50 members of the group kicked off the event Thursday on the steps at City Hall. The city already faces a $2.8 million deficit this year even before Mayor Bill Foster formulates a budget for the fiscal year that begins in October.
Last year, thousands of residents participated in the group's online survey to tell city leaders the best ways to spend their tax dollars. The group is asking residents this year to answer questions at peoplesbudgetreview.org.
District 4 City Council candidate Dr. David McKalip has unveiled what he calls a "major policy initiative." His proposed Good Neighbor Reward Program would reward residents for activities such as tutoring a child, helping a single mom with parenting and helping a rehabilitated prisoner return to society.
Rewards include, according to the proposal, rebates on utility bills and property taxes and fines being eliminated for parking tickets. Details can be found at mckalipforcouncil.com.
Darden Rice, the immediate past president of the League of Women Voters of St. Petersburg, is also seeking the District 4 seat.
Mayor Bill Foster left town Tuesday to schmooze with lawmakers in Tallahassee.
Foster had planned to go there about a month ago, but the trip was canceled. The trip was the only activity listed on the mayor's calendar for Wednesday. He left Tuesday night, records show.
Foster isn't known as a politician who pals around with many other elected leaders in the area.
Wayne Finley, who works in Foster's office, said the mayor had plans to meet with House Speaker Will Weatherford and others in leadership positions.
Foster also planned to speak with representatives from Attorney General Pam Bondi's office about ways to spend money from the national mortgage foreclosure settlement. The mayor did not return a call to talk about the trip.
As the Pinellas County Commission gears up for what is sure to be a riveting discussion about a proposed stormwater utility fee, it appears most commissioners are on board. That wasn't always the case.
Two years ago, when she was running for re-election, Commissioner Susan Latvala, right, sent around a flier attacking her opponent, Democrat Bob Hackworth, for supporting a stormwater fee.
"Bob Hackworth would tax everything else — why not rainwater?" asked the flier. "Say 'No' to new taxes and tax quack Bob Hackworth!"
A lot can change in two years and Latvala acknowledges she's reversed her opinion.
"It was about education — finding out how bad the situation really is and realizing that it's certainly not going to get any better," she said. "People's homes are in jeopardy."
It's also true that Latvala drew up the flier before the Environmental Protection Agency raised its water quality standards, putting pressure on Florida counties to begin cleaning up their rivers and lakes or face millions in fines. And it was also 2010 — the height of the tea party's power.
But the fact remains that getting Pinellas residents to swallow a new utility fee could be an ugly process and may not make life easier for Latvala in 2014.
Quote of the week
"But that's the new norm . . . Norm."
Pinellas Commissioner Janet Long
Long and Commissioner Norm Roche got into a heated back-and-forth on Tuesday during a discussion about the commission's strategy for the next few years. In front of a dozen or so department directors, Long snapped at Roche: "I don't agree with you."
"Well, it's not I don't agree with you, shut up…" Roche responded. "It's I don't agree with you, allow our opinions to be involved here."
Long had had enough. "But I've heard it!"