ST. PETERSBURG — With construction projects in slim demand in the Sunshine State, the City Council wants to help some workers dust off their hard hats.
The group is considering a local hiring ordinance that would require contractors and subcontractors to hire Pinellas County workers to perform at least 50 percent of work hours on projects worth $2 million or more.
The council has directed city staffers to seek input from contractors by Nov. 8. Staffers are holding weekly informal meetings at the Municipal Services Center.
The proposed ordinance, according to a letter sent to contractors, would help lower the unemployment rate and increase the ratio of residents to nonresidents building city construction projects.
To be eligible, workers must live in Pinellas County for at least six months before the start of a project and maintain the residence until the work is completed.
If the ordinance passes, contractors could face penalties from arbitration to fines for not hiring local workers. Similar ordinances have passed in Sarasota, Gainesville and some Florida counties.
Critics say giving local companies a leg up on projects would limit the pool of bidders and potentially drive up prices.
The Tampa City Council considered the idea in 2009 but eventually rejected it with a 5-2 vote. Then-Mayor Pam Iorio argued that such ordinances limit competition and increase the cost to taxpayers.
Steve Cona, president of Associated Builders and Contractors, has worked to defeat hiring ordinances in Hillsborough County. The group has tried for years to get a statewide law passed that would allow licensed contractors to compete on public projects without penalties from local municipalities.
The Florida League of Cities and Florida Association of Counties oppose the bill every year, Cona said.
The St. Petersburg proposal, Cona said, would harm the construction industry.
"If the state is going to license people to work statewide, then they should be allowed to work statewide," he said. "No construction company can survive working only in one county. Protectionism has never worked."
Mark Puente can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8459. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.