St. Petersburg's Nov. 8 ballot includes two waterfront issues

St. Petersburg’s port is alongside Albert Whitted’s runways and the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times (2006)

St. Petersburg’s port is alongside Albert Whitted’s runways and the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

BY MICHAEL VAN SICKLER

Times Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – Although ballot referendum language might induce sleep in most residents, such measures can have long-lasting ramifications for how the city grows, especially along the water's edge.

In the late 1980s, for instance, voters allowed developers renovating the Vinoy to have long-term leases to boat slips in the city marina. That was credited with the revival of what is now the Vinoy Renaissance Resort, a key building block to downtown's rebirth. In 2003, voters rejected turning Albert Whitted Airport into a waterside park. A year later, they approved leasing waterfront land to the Salvador Dalí Museum, which had its grand opening this year.

Among eight measures on the Nov. 8 ballot, two address the waterfront.

"It's probably the community's greatest asset," said Rick Mussett, senior administrator of city development. "Which is why there have been so many referendums on it."

Six of the ballot measures were proposed by a Charter Review Commission that was appointed by the City Council and Mayor Bill Foster. This board meets every decade to propose changes to the charter, the legal document that defines the city's political and governmental powers. The City Council proposed one charter amendment, plus a measure offering tax breaks for businesses.

No. 1

Should the city allow the length of leases on the city-owned Port to be increased from 10 years to 25 years?

(Charter Amendment placed on ballot by City Council)

In 2004, voters rejected this same charter lease proposal at a time when a casino cruise ship was scheduled to begin operations at the port. The cruise ship didn't last long. The city wants to pursue research vessels, which would compliment SRI St. Petersburg and the Florida Institute of Oceanography, as well as continued research into the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The city also wants to continue to pursue mega-yachts, despite the downturn in the economy. These uses were first outlined in a port master plan the City Council approved in 1999.

When the city sought bids to lease the port last year, it got a weak response and was later told the reason was that no private operator wanted to invest in expanding the port because the 10-year lease wasn't long enough to recoup costs. With a 25-year lease, a private operator would be more likely to invest in improvements, city officials say. That would increase revenues, which could reduce the city's port subsidy, which was $425,000 in 2011.

No. 2

Should the City Council waive property taxes for new businesses that move to the city or existing business that expand if they create jobs?

(Referendum Question placed on ballot by City Council)

Hillsborough County does it. So do Tampa and Sarasota. Offering tax breaks to companies to expand or relocate to St. Petersburg, then, seems like a no-brainer to the Pinellas Realtor Organization, which asked the City Council to put this on the ballot. Businesses related to manufacturing and the cultural arts would qualify because of their ability to create more jobs. Retail companies wouldn't because of their tendency to cannibalize existing local jobs. The exemptions would last up to 10 years and be evaluated annually to make sure they are meeting job benchmarks. If they aren't, they can be eliminated.

Research on the effectiveness of incentives is far from conclusive, and many corporate leaders list quality of life, transportation and the education of the local workforce as more important factors in determining relocations. Property taxes finance those elements. But if other jurisdictions offer the exemption, can St. Petersburg afford not to? "It's about remaining competitive," said David Goodwin, the city's director of planning and economic development.

No. 3

Should the City Council develop a downtown waterfront master plan by 2015?

(Charter Amendment placed on ballot by Charter Review Commission)

Yes, it might sound a tad backward to have this on the same ballot as another measure that would seal the fate of the port for the next 25 years. And yes, three architectural teams are now working on the redesign of the $50 million Pier project. "It's unfortunate the architects designing the Pier won't have a master plan to look at," said Chris Steinocher, the president of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce. "But this really is a good idea in that it gets everyone on the same page." The council would have to set the parameters of the master plan — its scope — by July. Then the master plan would need to be finished so that it can coordinate future downtown waterfront growth by 2015.

No. 4

Should the mayor and City Council, who currently draw council district boundaries, appoint a board to draw the lines instead?

(Charter Amendment placed on ballot by Charter Review Commission)

Council member Karl Nurse pushed for this amendment, and it was championed by the person he appointed to the charter review board, Darden Rice. "When politicians draw their own lines, it's like cheating," Nurse said. "The further you get politicians from drawing their boundaries, the fairer the districts will be." But the council will still select the people who will draw their districts, so how different will the outcome be? "It's a good start," Rice said. "Hopefully, a future Charter Review Commission will look back and say, 'Okay, let's now make it truly independent.' "

No. 5

Should the City Council consider, but not require, management evaluations every two years?

(Charter Amendment placed on ballot by Charter Review Commission)

The city is spending about $25,000 to study the city's youth programs. In 2007, the city spent about $100,000 to study its Police Department. This amendment clarifies in the charter that the City Council can continue to order management evaluations, but that it doesn't have to do so if it doesn't want to, said city administrator Tish Elston.

No. 6

Should the City Council hold public hearings before approving any changes to adopted city budgets?

(Charter Amendment placed on ballot by Charter Review Commission)

When the City Council approves budgets, it holds two public hearings. But throughout the year, adjustments to the budget are made as actual spending and revenues become more clear. These adjustments are typically approved on the council's consent agenda and aren't discussed. This proposal would allow the public to speak before these adjustments are made. "It's more transparent," said City Attorney John Wolfe.

No. 7

Should the mayor be required to submit a balanced budget to City Council?

(Charter Amendment placed on ballot by Charter Review Commission)

Outgoing Council member Herb Polson pushed for this measure. While Foster has submitted balanced budgets to the council, Polson said this was a response to former mayors who submitted budgets with alternative proposed cuts that the City Council had to choose. "It's the administration's budget, it's their proposal, so they should explain how they would balance the budget rather than have us do it," Polson said. The charter already requires the mayor to submit the budget. Polson said this merely clarifies that the budget be balanced when submitted.

No. 8

Should the charter be changed to correct typographical errors and clarify existing responsibilities between City Council and the mayor?

(Charter Amendment placed on ballot by Charter Review Commission)

These routine corrections are made every few years at the request of city attorneys, who try to clarify things in the charter that are unclear. The changes have been vetted by the Charter Review Commission.

St. Petersburg's Nov. 8 ballot includes two waterfront issues 10/18/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 18, 2011 8:29pm]

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