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St. Petersburg's RNC costs still murky

ST. PETERSBURG — Taxpayers might not learn for 30 days whether they'll be stuck with expenses connected to Republican National Convention events held in the city.

Questions remain even after Mayor Bill Foster sent two bills totaling $1.2 million to Tampa, which agreed to reimburse St. Petersburg nearly $1 million from a $50 million federal grant.

St. Petersburg officials plan to submit another request to Tampa within 30 days with more costs from the Aug. 26 welcome party at Tropicana Field, says a Sept. 28 letter that Foster sent the Tampa Police Department.

The letter doesn't provide an estimate of the expenses or an explanation of why the costs were not included in the earlier invoices. "We understand that these additional costs will be reimbursed subject to available funding," Foster wrote.

Expenses are still being tallied, police Chief Chuck Harmon said.

In the last five weeks, the city focused on submitting expenses that are guaranteed to be reimbursed, he said. The department does not have employees dedicated to the collection of payroll and expense records for RNC events, Harmon added.

"Until this process is complete, there is no available estimate of a final reimbursement request," Harmon said.

Foster stressed Tuesday that the final expenses are for hours worked by parks, streets, sanitation and seven other departments.

The final expenses, Foster said, are not for expensive equipment and will not total hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"These are incidental costs," he said.

Here are the actual expenses submitted to Tampa last week:

•$468,153 for salaries and benefits for employees, including police, firefighters and civilian workers from 10 city departments for work between Aug. 25 and Aug. 27.

•$358,053 for fencing rental, fire hydrant locks, cameras, magnetic boards, maps and portable toilets.

•$364,630 for police officers who worked RNC duties during the week of the convention.

The expenses total $1,190,836.

The costs have stoked controversy with the City Council and taxpayers.

"I want to see all the costs," council Chairwoman Leslie Curran said. "I don't think this is inclusive."

In the weeks leading up to the welcome party, Foster repeatedly declared that taxpayers wouldn't be on the hook for security-related expenses.

Weeks later, Foster disclosed an estimated $5.2 million deficit for fiscal 2012, which ended Sunday. Part of that, $580,000, was used to prepare, secure and clean up the city before and after convention activities.

Pressed in recent budget hearings, Foster refused to disclose the actual costs until submitting a bill to Tampa.

Council member Wengay Newton wonders if Foster is protecting himself in case Tampa rejects expenses, adding: "This is just crazy. We're going to have to pay some of this."

Council member Steve Kornell applauded Foster and Harmon for finally releasing some details, saying: "This stuff should not be secret."

St. Petersburg's RNC costs still murky 10/02/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 2, 2012 8:59pm]
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