Sunday, May 20, 2018
News Roundup

St. Petersburg City Council to vote on hiring incentive

ST. PETERSBURG — After months of study and criticism, city officials have developed an ordinance that will help Pinellas County residents land jobs on public construction projects.

The proposed construction incentive program would call for the city to pay contractors more quickly if they hire local unemployed, underemployed or disadvantaged workers on big-ticket public projects priced above $2 million.

The law could be important as 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 discuss the proposal at its 3 p.m. meeting Thursday at City Hall.

"It's going to be a big deal," said council chairman Karl Nurse. "The city will use its leverage to impact the standards of living in this town.

"I believe this will pass," he said.

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

Construction firms will select workers from an employee database managed by WorkNet Pinellas, which is one of the state's two dozen local work force boards. The agency offers training and job fairs throughout the county.

The council will be briefed annually to make sure the program works.

"Contractors get to manage their own projects, but the incentive will help hire people in the community," said Steve Cona Jr., an official with Associated Builders and Contractors. "Mandatory stuff does not work."

The proposal has been talked about for months and is being pushed by Faith and Action for Strength Together, an interfaith social justice group made up of 38 houses of worship in Pinellas County. The local chapter the NAACP and the Urban League also worked to create the law.

At the urging of Mayor Bill Foster, the council tabled an earlier proposal, which would have forced firms to hire Pinellas County residents for 25 percent of the hours on taxpayer-funded projects. That version would have a needed a costly disparity study.

City staffers then worked with the Chamber of Commerce, contractors, trade groups and leaders at training centers to craft a new proposal.

Foster said he is pleased that supporters and opponents came together on the issue. Creating an ordinance that didn't appease all the stakeholders would have been waste of time and money, he added.

"I think it's a great compromise," Foster said.

Mark Puente can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow him at Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.

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