Sunday, December 17, 2017
News Roundup

St. Petersburg budget shortfall includes money spent on RNC party at the Trop

ST. PETERSBURG — The city is $5.2 million over budget this year, including nearly $600,000 in expenses for hosting a welcome party for the Republican National Convention.

The tab comes after Mayor Bill Foster repeatedly declared that taxpayers wouldn't be on the hook for the Sunday bash at Tropicana Field. The money is on top of $1 million in police costs that Tampa agreed to give the city from a $50 million federal grant it received for convention security.

It cost St. Petersburg $580,000 for workers to prepare the city for RNC activities.

"I don't know what to say about this," Council Chair Leslie Curran said Thursday. She learned of the shortfall from the Tampa Bay Times.

To cover the gap, Foster told the Times Thursday morning that he will shift money from reserves to the general fund before the 2012 budget cycle closes on Sept. 30.

Later Thursday, Foster said the city didn't prepare for the expenses, which included sprucing up the city for the party.

"It wasn't in the original budget . . . we did everything we could to make sure we didn't have overtime," Foster said."

Last month, Foster said he would ask the Tampa Bay Host Committee, the party organizer, to pay expenses not covered by Tampa.

But on Thursday evening, Foster said he will not make that request.

"I don't see park improvements and street sweeping and sidewalk cleaning as an expense related to the event," Foster said.

Still, a city document classified the $580,000 in expenses as "Estimated RNC costs and no revenue."

The $5 million gap also includes $2.3 million to hire 30 maintenance workers, library clerks and other entry-level employees. The city had planned to reap savings by keeping the 30 jobs open during the fiscal year.

However, "It became clear that we'd have to fill the positions," said Tish Elston, city administrator. "They are frontline workers."

Other overruns include:

• $1.5 million for starting the fiscal year in the red after borrowing from reserves last year.

• $446,000 for vehicle repairs and rising fuel prices.

• $359,000 when a clerical error underestimated the budgets for the City Council and the city's legal department.

On Thursday morning, Foster downplayed the shortfall: "Nobody should be surprised by this."

The 2013 budget calls for putting $2 million back into reserves, he said.

However, the city already is facing a $10 million deficit for the new fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.

While Foster crunches final figures for that $482 million budget, the council must decide on how to generate new revenue.

The group could decide to raise property taxes, dip into reserves, or implement Foster's proposed fire readiness fee.

That would charge all property owners $75 per parcel and 23 cents per $1,000 of a lot's appraised structural value. Critics lambaste the fee as a regressive tax on the poor designed to help wealthy homeowners and businesses save thousands of dollars in property taxes.

A decision on the 2013 budget won't be made until the City Council holds budget hearings on Sept. 13 and 27.

Times staff writer Richard Danielson contributed to this report. Mark Puente can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow him at Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.

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