St. Pete Budget Hearing

09/18/09 Kate Bradshaw
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After months of wrangling, the St. Petersburg City Council approved its 2010 budget yesterday. The slim budget was met with praise, but not everyone was happy.

After nearly two hours of listening to public comments and ironing out a few remaining details, the St. Petersburg City Council passed its 2010 budget 7-1. It was the last budget over which outgoing Mayor Rick Baker presided, and also one of the tightest, as the mayor noted.

Council members and a handful of commenters commended the council’s efforts at whittling the city’s general fund to 206 million dollars for 2010, which reflects a nearly twelve percent reduction in property taxes, without having to make any sweeping cuts. Comparing St. Pete’s handling of the budget to that of other Florida cities, St. Pete resident Fred Taylor warned against relying on what he called a “fairy tale” surplus.

He referred to an op-ed that came out in yesterday’s St. Petersburg Times that attempted to debunk the claim that the city has substantial reserves, something that mayoral candidate Kathleen Ford claimed before the council. But not everyone came away with a rosy view.

Resident Hamilton Hanson decried the government waste he believes takes place at the expense of taxpayers, as well as a city decision that ultimately resulted in the cutting of five entry-level firefighter positions from their rolls. The firefighters’ salaries were originally part of a 2 million dollar county contract that provided St. Pete firefighting services to the small south Pinellas community of Tierra Verde, a contract that was lost earlier this month. Winthrop Newton, president of and bargaining agent for the St. Petersburg Association fire fighters, said that the city should have used its reserve funds, which are meant to cover one-time expenses, to fill in the gap that resulted in the job cuts.

Councilman Wengay Newton provided the sole “No” vote on this year’s budget. Among his concerns was the lack of funding for a summer youth employment program.

Newton also expressed concern over an ordinance that would raise city water rates by two percent, something he said would be an additional hardship to the residents of his district, which comprises much of south St. Pete.

That bill also passed.

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