St. Petersburg approves 2024 budget amid pleas against stadium subsidy

Some speakers said they were against public money for a stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays.
Members of Faith in Florida hold a news conference on the steps of St. Petersburg City Hall Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023. The group spoke out about the new Tampa Bay Rays ballpark agreement.
Members of Faith in Florida hold a news conference on the steps of St. Petersburg City Hall Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023. The group spoke out about the new Tampa Bay Rays ballpark agreement. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published Sept. 29|Updated Sept. 29

ST. PETERSBURG — As property values continue to rise, so will property tax bills. But the St. Petersburg City Council on Thursday approved a reduced tax rate for the third consecutive year.

That will still net the city an extra $20 million for the city’s budget for 2024, reflecting a citywide 12.36% increase in property values. The council voted 7-1 to approve an $835 million operating budget. The city plans to spend 8.3% more on expenses this year.

Council member Richie Floyd voted against the property tax rate and budget, but was part of the unanimous vote to approve a list of city construction and maintenance projects. He said the city had its priorities “backwards” by lowering property taxes but increasing water rates when the city had its first budget hearing Sept. 14.

“I believe our goal is lowering the cost of living for our residents,” Floyd said. “You can do that more efficiently without lowering taxes on our-of-town corporate property owners.”

The budget includes wage increases for all employees including police and fire rescue. The city’s CALL program, which sends social workers on 911 calls, will receive $400,000 more to add two staffers and a supervisor to extend evening hours. The city will add $75,000 more to its affordable housing budget.

St. Petersburg Fire Rescue will also receive money to hire five additional temporary cadet positions in an effort to recruit more diverse candidates. There is an extra $45,000 in funding for the arts and $107,000 for the Woodson African American Museum of Florida.

“A budget is a value statement for our city and nobody gets everything that they want,” said council member Ed Montanari, adding that public safety is the No. 1 job of the government. “I wish we would’ve been able to reduce the millage rate further, but I’m happy that we were able to do it. There were other municipalities in our area who couldn’t. The county couldn’t.”

The City Council approved a tax rate of 6.4675, a slight property tax cut from the 6.525 millage in the current budget. A mil equals $1 dollar of tax for every $1,000 of property value. Even with the tax rate cut, typical property owners may see a larger tax bill because of the increased values.

The 2024 budget also includes a $1 million contingency for the Historic Gas Plant District redevelopment. City Administrator Rob Gerdes explained that will likely cover personnel costs. The city currently contracts with outside counsel, and Gerdes said the city may need to renew that contract. That money could also go toward additional staff members, consultants and an owner’s representative.

Before the budget hearing, some members of the public rallied outside City Hall against providing a public subsidy to the planned new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays. Though that spending wasn’t included in this year’s budget, they took the issue up during open forum.

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“Stuart Sternberg, principal owner is worth $800 million. One man is worth almost the same budget, same amount of money it takes to run this city for a year,” said resident John Stewart. “If we can find the $400 million for Stuart Sternberg, we can find $400 million for people here in the city.”