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St. Pete council to vote on hire-local construction program

ST. PETERSBURG — With construction cranes soaring above downtown, the City Council could help put hard hats on some Pinellas County residents.

The council will vote Thursday on an ordinance that would help unemployed, underemployed or disadvantaged workers find work on big-ticket public projects priced above $500,000.

The city would pay contractors more quickly if they hire local workers.

"It would have an immediate impact," said the Rev. Manuel Sykes, president of the St. Petersburg NAACP. "We have a lot of prospects."

The ordinance has been in the works for at least two years and could result in lots of jobs for locals. Several high-dollar public projects are planned for the near future, including a $40 million police headquarters, a possible $50 million pier, and sewer projects worth $50 million.

The City Council will hold a public hearing about the new rules at 6 p.m. Thursday at City Hall.

No council members have objected to the proposal in its current stage, so it should pass without a battle.

"This is the hardest thing I've gotten through," said City Council chairman Karl Nurse. "I think it's solid now. I think all eight council members are on board."

Nurse isn't done, saying he hopes to lobby other Pinellas County governments to adopt similar programs once results in St. Petersburg can be shown.

In June, staffers tweaked an earlier proposal by dropping the price tag of public projects from $2 million to $500,000. The council members think the lower amount will help more people find work.

Typically, the city pays contractors in stages and holds a percentage of the money to ensure that the work is completed. If the ordinance passes and companies comply with the requirements, the city will reduce the amount of money it holds.

Construction firms would select workers from an employee database managed by WorkNet Pinellas, which is one of the state's two dozen local workforce boards. The agency offers training and job fairs throughout the county. The proposal also would help trainees in apprenticeship programs.

The program is being pushed by Faith & Action for Strength Together, an interfaith social justice group made up of 38 houses of worship in Pinellas County.

The local chapter of the NAACP and the Urban League also worked to create the ordinance.

In late 2012, Mayor Bill Foster urged the council to table a proposal that would have needed a costly disparity study. City staffers then teamed with the chamber of commerce, contractors, trade groups and leaders at training centers to craft a new ordinance.

Proponents have been working to notify unemployed workers about the proposal, Sykes said.

"The news has to spread," he said. "Once it becomes reality, then people have something to sink their teeth into."

Mark Puente can be reached at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow him @markpuente on Twitter.

St. Pete council to vote on hire-local construction program 08/20/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 20, 2013 2:47pm]
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