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Editorial: Higher payroll puts pressure on mayor

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman finally has detailed how he will cover the salaries of eight senior staff members he has brought to City Hall. It's far from ideal, including plans to sweep money in a capital improvement account and use proceeds from a land sale. Kriseman says it's just a stopgap measure until he can find efficiencies to build the jobs into the next budget year that begins Oct. 1. But using one-time money for significantly increased staff and recurring expenses ups the ante when it comes to expectations. Taxpayers are going to want to see tangible results for the higher payroll.

Kriseman created the position of deputy mayor, complete with a $150,000 salary that is just below the mayor's $158,000 salary. Kanika Tomalin, a former Bayfront executive, took that post. Kriseman also has wooed back a City Hall veteran, Michael Dove, to oversee neighborhood affairs for $130,000. Six other new staff members each make less than $100,000. Total costs for the remaining nine months of the city's 2013-14 fiscal year: $873,810. Another unexpected expense Kriseman has to cover: $283,011 in accrued vacation and sick leave the city owed departing staffers — including an extra $78,000 in severance pay then-Mayor Bill Foster inexcusably cost taxpayers when he agreed to "fire" departing City Administrator Tish Elston so she could walk away with as much of the taxpayers' money as possible.

Kriseman will cover some of the total $1.2 million in costs with $367,050 savings from vacant jobs across city government. But Kriseman is counting on plucking $250,000 from the city's capital improvement fund that his staff said won't be otherwise spent and $256,760 of the proceeds from the sale of land at First Avenue N and Second Street.

Beyond justifying the payroll, Kriseman's administrative team has a lot to prove given the baggage some of the staffers bring to City Hall. Chief of Staff Kevin King, who earns $98,500, has yet to disclose documents or details from a 2001 arrest when he was 22 years old stemming from accusations he propositioned a teenage girl to have sex. King was charged with three felonies and says the charges "were resolved favorably,'' but the case has been expunged from court files and there is no public record of the outcome. David Flintom, who earns $70,000 as the new head of the mayor's action center, first had to clean up his own code enforcement problems related to a home he owns in St. Petersburg that is headed to foreclosure.

All of this raises the stakes for Kriseman's first few months. It's bad practice for government salaries, particularly during a relatively calm economy, to require raiding one-time funds. Kriseman has decided the transition requires it. Now it's up to the mayor and his staff to convince St. Petersburg taxpayers the investment is worth it.

Editorial: Higher payroll puts pressure on mayor 01/15/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 15, 2014 6:00pm]
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