Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

St. Petersburg coalition wants new player at city budget talks: You

ST. PETERSBURG — In an era of shrinking tax revenues, a new coalition of community groups wants to give residents a greater role in deciding how the city should spend, save or cut its budget.

The People's Budget Review is seeking 10,000 residents to complete a five-minute survey that characterizes their priorities — from public safety and parks to recreation and economic development. It's an ambitious plan, but one the group says is necessary to make the budget more accessible and relevant to the lives of the city's 245,000 residents.

"Only a fraction of a percent have a say in the allocation of our tax dollars," said Christian Haas, a graduate student at the University of South Florida and a member of the political grass roots organization Awaken Pinellas that is part of the coalition. "We need a new type of participation. It's our duty to make our voices heard."

Haas spoke Monday on the steps of City Hall along with other members of the coalition: the SEIU labor union, NAACP, League of Women Voters, Suncoast Sierra Club, the Council of Neighborhood Associations and Agenda 2010, a nonpartisan group of activists and experts trying to increase voter turnout.

The genesis of the new group came after the City Council approved Mayor Bill Foster's budget in September. The city union that represents 1,250 employees in blue-collar jobs in parks and recreation, sanitation and other services, faced another year of frozen wages and job losses. The union tried — and failed — to get a $500 bonus for employees that could be spent on local businesses.

The NAACP had been frustrated that a summer jobs program for youth wasn't getting more funding. Some CONA representatives complained of a bloated bureaucracy.

These different groups found common cause. The city's elected officials, they concluded, weren't hearing them. Town hall meetings weren't working because so few attend. Budget hearings came too late to change decisions.

"We decided to step out of the box and look outside of traditional methods," said Gypsy Gallardo, co-founder of Agenda 2010. "We knew all these groups wanted to speak. The Tea Party. The Occupy movement. Average residents. Let's give them a mechanism to do it."

The group decided to produce a campaign heavy on social media: Facebook, Twitter and a website ( where residents could log their views. The survey consists of about 30 questions. Its purpose is to explore the budget in different ways, reviewing possible cuts, but also consider new revenue sources such as higher property rates and tapping into reserves.

By the city's first public summit on April 25, the coalition hopes to have 2,000 completed surveys. By September's final hearing, its goal is 10,000. The only qualification is that respondents be city residents. As of late Monday, it had 28 responses.

"It's so important to see a group like this come together across racial and demographic lines," said Rev. Manuel Sykes, president of the city's NAACP chapter. "The budget isn't that complicated. We don't need algorithms to tell us what's fair. But we're not going to wait until election time to voice our objections. Government should be accessible."

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or

>>Fast facts

Meetings on budget

Upcoming public budget summits and hearings:

Summits (All begin at 6 p.m.)

•April 25: J.W. Cate Center, 5801 22nd Ave. N.

•May 16: Roberts Recreation Center, 1246 50th Ave. N.

•June 13: Manhattan Casino, 642 22nd St. S.

Public hearings

•Sept. 13: First public hearing to adopt tentative budget and tax rate at City Council Chamber, City Hall, 175 Fifth St. N.

•Sept. 27: Second public hearing to adopt final budget and tax rate and approve capital improvement program at City Council Chamber, City Hall, 175 Fifth St. N.

Be heard

Take the People's Budget Review survey at

St. Petersburg coalition wants new player at city budget talks: You 03/19/12 [Last modified: Monday, March 19, 2012 11:52pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. PolitiFact takes on big health care question: Does GOP bill cut Medicaid?


    Politics and math don't always get along, and counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway raised a common complaint about how people talk about the future of Medicaid spending under the Senate Republican health care bill.

    Alice Jacobs, 90, at Dogwood Village, a nonprofit county-owned nursing home in Orange, Va., on June 23. Medicaid, targeted by Republicans' health care bill, pays for most of the 1.4 million elderly people in nursing homes, some of whom do not know they are on it. (Khue Bui/The New York Times)
  2. Higher Social Security payouts help Florida post a big jump in personal income

    Personal Finance

    Personal income grew 1.3 percent in Florida in the first quarter of this year, a four-way tie among all states for second-fastest growth behind Idaho.

  3. Gov. Scott in Washington as health care debate intensifies


    Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday began a daylong series of meetings in Washington on health care, saying he wants to ensure Florida gets its share of Medicaid funding while praising parts of the Senate GOP’s Obamacare replacement.

    Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks at Creative Sign Designs in Tampa on June 13.
  4. Rays series preview: Who are the Pirates?


    After an off day Monday, the Rays head on the road to PNC Park for a three-game interleague series against the Pirates. Here's the information you need to know about Pittsburgh before the action kicks off.

    Record: 35-41, fourth in NL Central

    Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen, left, has rebounded from a rough start, while fellow outfielder Gregory Polanco, right, has fallen off recently.
  5. U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and estranged wife Carole put Beach Drive condo on the market

    Real Estate

    ST. PETERSBURG — U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and his estranged wife, Carole, have put their Beach Drive condo on the market for $1.5 million.

    U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and his estranged wife, Carole, have put their Beach Drive condo in Parkshore Plaza on the market for $1.5 million. {Courtesy of Amy Lamb/Native House Photography]