ST. PETERSBURG — Hoping it is ending more than half a decade of searching for money, the City Council on Thursday signed off on a deal with Pinellas County to finally raise a total of $70 million for a new police headquarters. But several council members said they still weren't convinced that the city will need to spend the entire sum.
The council voted 7-1 on the agreement Mayor Rick Kriseman negotiated with Pinellas to redirect $20.2 million more in Penny for Pinellas funds to the project to supplement $50 million the city had already identified. The County Commission must approve the plan and is expected to vote Tuesday.
Most council members said they appreciated that the deal will make it possible to build the facility all at once, saving up to $15 million on construction costs. They agreed that the current facility is cramped, lacks enough space for laboratory work and other police services, and is unsafe in a hurricane.
The agreement would basically shift money from projects that the city has completed with other monies that were originally part of the 2008 deal for Penny for Pinellas funds. The new deal includes $7 million less in total funds to acknowledge that revenues from the 1-cent tax are less than originally projected due to the recent recession.
The only projects the mayor's staff said would be affected by the change in the county agreement was about $5 million in infrastructure improvements at city intersections. The $50 million balance will come from city resources, including about $25 million in short-term bonds. The bonds will be paid off with future Penny revenue and proceeds from the sale of the land on which the current headquarters sits on First Avenue N.
Kriseman said the current headquarters had been maintained "by a series of band-aids" and it is time to build an adequate facility.
Council Chairman Charlie Gerdes said residents had been promised a new headquarters for years and the city needed to keep its promises. He and several other members said they wanted to learn more about the design plans for the headquarters but stressed that Thursday's vote wasn't to approve the building itself, just part of the money needed to build it.
"Just because we have $70 million doesn't mean we spend $70 million," Gerdes said.
Council member Karl Nurse repeated his desire to explore building a smaller garage at the headquarters and perhaps construct a public garage nearby that could accommodate police vehicles in a hurricane.
Kriseman said he would consider the idea.
Some have criticized the deal as a money grab by St. Petersburg at the expense of other Pinellas municipalities that also have a need for the Penny sales tax revenue, council member Darden Rice said.
But because the new facility would serve as a backup 911 communications center for the county able to withstand at least a Category 4 hurricane, the expense is justified, she said.
"It's a strategic asset for the entire county," she said.
Council member Wengay Newton voted against the agreement, saying that the money would be better spent on struggling neighborhoods in south St. Petersburg.
"There's a lot more that's needed in the areas of greatest need," he said.
Contact Charlie Frago at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago.