Residents of St. Petersburg should hide their piggy banks.
Balancing next year's budget will take a lot of spare change. As city leaders comb the coffers in search of the $3.8 million Mayor Bill Foster says they need to balance the 2012 fiscal budget — without raising property taxes — residents may be asked to pony up higher, or brand new, fees.
Since Foster took office in January 2010, we have seen changes in parking enforcement downtown and a solicitation ban at most major intersections. For the most part, those changes were applauded by residents and business owners wary of panhandling and the increased presence of homeless people on city streets.
There are 6,500 parking spaces downtown, and 1,450 of them are metered. According to city officials, the meters generate about $925,000 a year in revenue, plus another $1.5 million from parking citations.
But a staggering economy, coupled with a continued decline in property values, have taken a toll, so city leaders got creative.
In recent weeks, the city has launched a new booting program — ignore three or more parking tickets and risk getting your car immobilized by a yellow boot — and the City Council approved adding red-light cameras to the mix in July.
To be clear, the implementation of the boot program is needed in this town. In November 2010, city records showed that since 2003 the city has lost $2 million in revenue because of unpaid parking tickets.
The red-light camera program, which could start by mid July, is projected to cost $1.4 million. But tickets are expected to cover that and produce net revenue of $300,000 the first year.
Now, city officials have their sights on new fees for recreation cards as well as adding parking meters to Albert Whitted Park, North Shore Park and Bay Beach. Steeper fees for nonresident recreation cards make sense, but why raise the fee for residents and put in those new meters? People need a break.
From the look of things, it appears the city has declared war on car owners. Come summer, if the red-light cameras don't get you, the parking czars will. Complain, and they'll just give you the boot.
What's next? Fees for walking the dog?
As the budget forums head to a recreation center near you, city officials need to hear from residents. Last week, the turnout was really low. The next forum is scheduled for 6 p.m. May 18 at the Azalea Recreation Center, 1600 72nd St. N.
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Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church is seeking donations to help send deserving students in its Drumline and Color Guard to band camp.
The church's Drumline Ministry serves as a community outreach program that targets young people between 7 and 21.
The students practice at least three times a week and usually perform on Saturdays. They have performed at the Saturday Morning Market, Relay for Life, Suncoast Hospice Stroll, the grand openings for the new Dalí Museum and the new All Children's Hospital, as well as a recent Tampa Bay Rays game at Tropicana Field.
According to Deon Bryant, one of the band's directors, Mount Zion is trying to send at least 10 kids to band camp at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. The camp starts July 9 and costs $495 per student.
Businesses and people interested in sponsoring a student or the group can contact the church at (727) 894-4311 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. The church is at 955 20th St. S, St. Petersburg, FL 33712.
Sandra J. Gadsden in an assistant metro editor, community news. She can be reached at email@example.com or at (727) 893-8874.