Tuesday, April 24, 2018
News Roundup

St. Pete officials get first glimpse of proposed 2015 budget

ST. PETERSBURG — The City Council got its first look at the mayor's burgeoning budget for next year on Tuesday, and for the most part, members liked what they saw.

During an all-day workshop, Mayor Rick Kriseman and his top staffers presented the broad way they plan to manage the $216 million operating budget for fiscal year 2015, which begins Oct. 1.

"This budget will be a reflection of the city," Kriseman said. "In it you will see our priorities, and our values."

Highlights include:

• An additional $700,000 for marketing the city for tourism, economic development and showcasing the area's arts and culture.

• Salary increases for employees — though the exact amount will depend upon collective bargaining with various unions.

• An additional $100,000 for business recruitment

• An additional $50,000 for small business assistance

• An additional $350,000 for housing initiatives in the city's southern neighborhoods

Kriseman has until July 1 to submit a final budget to the council, and it is likely a few things will change before then.

For example, officials estimated a 3 percent increase in property values. But late last month, Pinellas County Property Appraiser Pam Dubov said average property values are expected to rise by 5 percent this year.

That will no doubt help close an at-the-moment projected deficit of $4.15-million in Kriseman's budget, since as of now, revenues are only expected to be about $212 million.

"Last year at this time we had a very similar gap," said budget director Tom Greene. "It's kind of in line of where we are in this process."

Kriseman said he would rather be conservative now and have a bonus on the back end.

Officials still have not factored in the full amount of state funds they may get for various programs.

Council members praised the administration and said they were particularly happy to see the mayor follow through on his pledges to step up the city's marketing, economic and neighborhood efforts.

They also liked that Kriseman plans to add three more codes inspectors and another person to help maintain medians, since both efforts lagged during the recession.

"I want to applaud the administration for walking the walk instead of just talking the talk," council member Charlie Gerdes said.

Still, Gerdes said he'd like to see more "balance" between some of the proposed enhancements. He proposed shifting some of the $700,000 earmarked for marketing to the economic development side.

Council members also had concerns about a few other line items, including a sharp increase in workers' compensation costs

City Administrator Gary Cornwell said the hike in costs — about 45 percent — is because of a number of high loss claims.

A few council members also questioned the need for a proposed $145,000 downtown parking study.

Evan Mory, recently promoted to head the city's transportation department, said such a study hadn't been done since 2003 and that staffers felt it was prudent given the changes downtown.

Council members Steve Kornell and Karl Nurse said they wonder if there's a way to get the information without expensive consulting fees.

"I am going to question these kinds of expenses . . . when we have so many other needs," Kornell said.

Council members also expressed some frustration with the opaqueness of the proposed police department budget. It's expected to stay relatively flat for next year, at about $90.7 million.

Unlike other departments that presented their information on Tuesday, the police portion did not contain as much detail.

"About 40 percent of our budget is three pages. There is no department that provides us less information," a frustrated Nurse said. "I assume the message from PD is, 'We're not doing anything different and whatever we're doing is what we're doing and leave us alone.' "

Police officials who were at the workshop said they would follow up with answers the council had about specific topics like take-home cruisers.

Administrators said this year's budget process was pretty in depth.

One of the things the new administration asked departments to do was justify their expenses and show how it matched up with the mayor's vision for the city.

"We were painstaking in our approach in weighing everything," Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin said. "We think we are headed on the right path with an eye toward the right goal."

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