Sunday, February 25, 2018

St. Pete's freakish fiscal circus begins

Now that the cash cow that wasn't has left town, it's time to focus on the city's finances.

In the short term, most will home in on the nearly $600,000 spent on the welcome party for the Republican National Convention.

With St. Petersburg already facing a $10 million deficit, we recently learned that taxpayers may have to pick up the tab for the welcome party at Tropicana Field.

The city has less than a month to sort all of this out.

In recent years, the answer has been: Stick it to the residents. We've been given the boot — a la the implementation of the boot program to nab folks who ignore parking citations. Then the city added the red-light camera program. Scattered in between those add-ons were increased fees for recreation cards, city pools and parking fees, just to name a few.

Now city officials are considering the controversial fire fee and possibly raising taxes.

Okay, take a deep breath, people.

When former Mayor Rick Baker left office in 2009, the city had nearly $300 million in its rainy-day fund (reserves). A year ago, the city borrowed $2 million and it looks as though it may be forced to do the same this year.

At this rate, it's fair to wonder just how much of the money will be there by the time this current batch of elected officials are out of office.

Fiscally speaking, the city's leadership has been lacking, so I've come up with the following wish list:

• Car allowances must go. They've been on the books for 23 years now. A year ago Foster said he would look into the matter for fiscal year 2013. A year ago this perk, which is offered to 141 administrators, directors and managers, cost taxpayers $201,852. Yet the taxpayers have heard nary a word. Still waiting.

• Pensions for the mayor and City Council — for part-time work. Okay, being mayor is a full-time job, but council, come on. There are hundreds of part-time city employees who would love to have this perk, too. But the taxpayers can't afford this. The free lunches are bad enough, but this pension is sickening.

• Hire better number crunchers or demand higher accountability when horrific mistakes are made. You must admit we've had some doozies this year. Especially the clerical error that cost the taxpayers $1 million in pension benefits to 71 police officers.

• Add a common-sense clause to the city's police pursuit policy. Since the change went into effect in 2010, there have been 61 pursuits as of July 30. Some of these high-speed chases — in rush hour, no less — resulted in injuries to innocent residents. While the city claims that the payout thus far has been minimal, in the long term, the policy needs to be reviewed.

And finally, with the ongoing temper tantrums between council Chairwoman Leslie Curran and Foster, it's a wonder any city work is getting done.

The elephants and tossed peanuts have left town, but the real circus will commence in budget hearings Sept. 13 and 27. Be sure to step right up for a bird's-eye view for this one.

• • •

There's a lot of love going around for the Sunshine City. But there's no place where that is felt more than the monthly Our Town conversations at the Salvador Dalí Museum.

When it debuted in April 2011, I would bet that few people knew what a gem it would turn out to be.

Our Town is hosted by Dr. Carol Mickett, a local philosopher and artist with a national reputation. To boot, she's the brains behind this free event that has grown in popularity.

The event is held the last Thursday of the month. The best way to describe it is, it's the Dalí's version of Bravo's Inside the Actors Studio. But the event features community leaders, artists, poets and editors who make this city special.

Next up (Sept. 27) is Scott Wagman, a former mayoral candidate.

Although the event is free, reservations are required.

For information, call (727) 823-3767.

Sandra J. Gadsden can be reached at [email protected] or at (727) 893-8874 and on Twitter at @StPeteSandi.

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