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St. Petersburg City Council eyes extra property tax cash

ST. PETERSBURG — With nearly $1 million in unexpected revenue in next year's budget, the City Council is pushing for a say in how it's spent.

Despite some pushback from city administrators, the council has scheduled a budget workshop next month to hash out competing demands for the money.

"With nearly a million dollars of new revenue, the council should have a discussion about that. It just shouldn't be do what you want with the money," said council Vice Chairman Steve Kornell. "Council deserves a chance to be a part of it."

When Mayor Rick Kriseman submitted his budget on July 1, the city didn't have the latest property tax revenue estimates. The budget included an estimated hike of 6.98 percent, but increases turned out to be 8.17 percent, or $973,000 more.

Budget director Tom Greene told the council last week that having a workshop on Aug. 28, a week before the first public budget hearing, would be "extremely challenging."

Council member Amy Foster was perplexed by that since the city must report budget information to the city clerk by Aug. 22.

"I just want to avoid what happened last year," Foster said. "It was very contentious. We were there until 1 a.m. This way would be better for everyone."

Last year under former Mayor Bill Foster, a last-minute addition of $300,000 in neighborhood, social services and youth jobs, rankled some on the council, including Chairman Bill Dudley.

The council needs to get a head start this time around, he said.

"There's no higher priority," he said. "We need to do it PDQ."

During the meeting, Kornell also noted that last-minute budget negotiations in a public hearing could imperil the high-paying administrative jobs that Kriseman created. It wasn't a threat, he said, but the time has come for a discussion about those.

"Are we top-heavy? Have we added too much top administration at the same time we're cutting $600,000 in police overtime?" he said. "That's a legitimate discussion we should have."

Police overtime is a big question mark for several council members, who don't necessarily agree with the mayor's cut.

"The last three years, the reason we didn't have a balanced budget was that we always ran more overtime than budgeted. What are we going to do differently that doesn't require OT?" council member Karl Nurse asked.

As for the extra cash, a wish list is already emerging: more youth jobs, rebates on permitting for rehab projects in poor neighborhoods, assistance for homeless families, sidewalks near schools, college tuition assistance for part-time city workers and even a small millage rate cut.

The council is not the only group compiling a list of wants. The People's Budget Review met Monday to discuss the extra revenue, said Christian Haas, a community organizer and member.

Ideas that came up included wireless Internet in recreation centers, community or school gardens, and a tool-sharing program.

"We're not trying to do anything super-expensive," Haas said.

Greene cautioned the actual dollars up for grabs will be less than $973,000. That figure, he said, represents gross property taxes, and some will be diverted to restricted tax-increment finance, or TIF, districts. Also, the city is reviewing state revenue projections and might see a drop in communication services taxes.

Kriseman doesn't have any comment on the council's desire to have a budget session, but "his door is always open to any council member that wants to talk with him about the budget until it's finalized," spokesman Ben Kirby said.

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago.

St. Petersburg City Council eyes extra property tax cash 07/29/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 11:03pm]

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