It's not uncommon in St. Petersburg for those running for City Council to know each other, especially when Bill Dudley, a former Northeast High School teacher, is in the race. He estimates he taught 15,000 students in his career. When he ran for City Council in 2003, he lost to Bill Foster, whom he coached in football.
This time, he's an incumbent and faces a challenge from another student, Bubba the Love Sponge radio show producer Brent Hatley. Dudley was Hatley's driver education instructor. Ironically, it's on the subject of red-light cameras where they differ the most.
Dudley says this race, so far at least, hasn't been as intense as his 2007 contest against Ed Montanari. Through mid-September, he out-raised Hatley by more than a 3-1 ratio. Even so, Dudley says he is taking Hatley seriously.
Hatley says he's an enthusiastic campaigner who is eager to shake his shock-jock reputation.
"Once I meet people in person, they can see I'm not the person I play on the radio. They are more apt to listen," he said. "I have large name recognition. My biggest challenge is getting people under 55 to go out and vote. If we can get them to show up, I think we'll win."
Will red-light cameras make city streets safer?
Dudley: Yes. Hopefully, it will be a re-education more than anything else. It'll make people more aware. My motivation in supporting these cameras is strictly from the safety standpoint. It has nothing to do with the fines.
Hatley: They absolutely will not. What would make the streets safer is lengthening the yellow light interval and making it so when the light turns red, it's a four-way stop. That would reduce crashes by 90 percent. But red-light cameras are nothing more than a hidden tax. The city's counting on them raising $900,000 next year. I don't know how they're going to do that when Miami only made $2 million and Los Angeles lost money.
The city faces yet another deficit in the city's 2013 budget. The city's property tax rate hasn't increased since 2007 (giving residents a total tax decrease of nearly $100 million as property value has declined). Is it time to increase the rate, or, absent that, ponder a new revenue source?
Dudley: Yes, but the caveat is, I want to make sure we've done everything we can to cut all the things we can cut without hurting our quality of life. I don't think we're there yet. As a last resort, I'll do something about the tax situation. I want to consolidate departments or outsource some things, like maybe our recreation and sanitation departments.
Hatley: There should be a new revenue source, but not in the form of a higher tax rate. There are nontraditional ways to raise revenue. One option would be for the city to throw a citywide event that could make revenue, like an outdoor concert. It could get big names, inexpensively these days. A one-day event could raise six figures in revenue. These acts wouldn't compete with the (city-owned) Mahaffey Theater because these acts wouldn't fit in the Mahaffey. Also, North Miami Beach created an entertainment district that stays open until 5 a.m. We could so something like that, get the business owners to pay for the extra police. That would generate more sales tax money. But the city can't just keep cutting without looking for more revenue.
Is Mayor Bill Foster doing a good or bad job? Please explain.
Dudley: He's doing a good job. He's in a tough situation. The budgets have been bad. He's made some mistakes, like his attempt to close the pools. He's been in office not quite two years yet. The training wheels are coming off. He's admitted he's had some growing up to do. He realigned his Cabinet by getting rid of some high-priced administrators (Goliath Davis and Dave Metz, who was demoted). He's doing a good job in getting businesses to come.
Hatley: Overall, he was put in a tough position. The mood of the country right now is pretty polarized, and you have to put him in that context. Given that, he's done a good job.
What will you do to address the stalemate between the Tampa Bay Rays and the city on the team's lease agreement binding it to Tropicana Field through the 2027 season?
Dudley: I'd imagine (Tampa Bay Rays owner) Stu Sternberg would let us know (the Rays) want to talk. We've already reached out to them. As far as where to build the stadium and where it's going to go, we're so far away from that. We need to talk first. We're the legislative branch. Foster is the executive, he needs to do it and bring back something to us for us to vote on. If he asks us to help, we'll do it.
Hatley: I'd sit down and talk with the Rays. If they want a new stadium, there are ways to do that. Look at getting federal grant money to build an energy-efficient way that would be the crown jewel of baseball. It may cost a little more up front.
Are tax breaks good incentives for companies or does that just erode the tax base? Please explain what the city could do to spur economic development.
Dudley: It doesn't erode it. Why would a business pick one place over another? Everyone is doing it, so St. Petersburg should, too. We can also expedite the building process. We have to show businesses what we can do for them. We have three colleges, we have the Rays, we have the performing arts, and the beaches. But we need to do more. Tax breaks will bring people into the community that will spend money on living here.
Hatley: Tax breaks are a good incentive. But if you give them, you have to give them across the board. You can't give it just to a new business because it's unfair to those companies that are already here. I'd offer something more uniform so that every business can qualify for it, not the just the new ones or those expanding.