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St. Pete council gets details on curbside recycling and arts funding

ST. PETERSBURG — City officials on Thursday presented the most comprehensive details yet about the universal curbside recycling program they hope to start next year.

Public Works director Mike Connors presented a 16-page slide show to City Council members as they prepare to approve a $6 million loan to buy new trucks and containers.

"I can only imagine the impatience of some council members and members of the public," Connors said of the program, which has suffered from a series of fits, starts and setbacks since Mayor Rick Kriseman first announced it in February.

In the time line Connors explained Thursday, the service will begin in July. It will cost residents $2.95 a month. City workers will collect residents' recyclables once every other week. The materials will go in blue 95-gallon bins. The city is negotiating right now with a private contractor for processing the recyclables.

Connors said that contract should be finalized in December. At the same time, the city will kick off a public education campaign.

"This is a real milestone in getting to implementation," said council member Darden Rice, a main proponent of recycling. "The public is behind this. … Overall, I think this is a great report and we're really headed in the right direction."

Council member Jim Kennedy noted the tiny number of people who voluntarily pay for recycling now — about 7,800,

Connors said the goal is to get 100 percent participation from the city's 80,000 households, noting that people will be motivated because they will have to pay for the service anyway.

"Our goal, albeit lofty … is to increase our current participation from 10 percent to 100 percent," Connors said. "I think the public outreach is going to take care of that. … It's just going to be a matter of time and a cultural shift."

Once the service starts, officials said, residents will be able to earn points for recycling, which can be used in a rewards program with local businesses.

Eventually, Connors said, the city would like to get to once-a-week trash and recycling pickup.

Arts funding

Midway through their meeting, council members learned of an update to another closely watched issue.

Kriseman sent a memo announcing he had reversed his opposition to an idea to use a portion of Weeki Wachee funds to support the arts.

A long-awaited discussion about the proposal, first floated in the spring by council member Charlie Gerdes, was abruptly cut short last week when Kriseman announced he was working on his own plan to pay for the arts to the tune of $200,000 a year. The mayor would not share details then, though.

In his memo Thursday, Kriseman said his intention is to allow people to make a contribution to the arts voluntarily on their utility bills or when conducting a business transaction with the city. That would be on top of any proposal to use Weeki Wachee money for the arts.

The city's arts advisory committee would distribute voluntary contributions to working artists who don't qualify for existing grants. Leftover dollars could go to nonprofit arts organizations.

"Though I have high hopes for this program, as I indicated, I have concluded that it should complement our reliable Weeki Wachee fund," Kriseman wrote. "My recent objection to repurposing the fund was largely due to my involvement with its creation in 2001. I am protective of its use, and as such, I took this one too personally."

Council members decided to revive Gerdes' plan at a committee meeting Oct. 23. They also directed the administration to find $50,000 to support the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance, which did not get an allocation in the recently passed budget.

Contact Kameel Stanley at kstanley@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8643. Follow @cornandpotatoes.

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