St. Petersburg City Council tells Mayor Rick Kriseman to spend Penny for Pinellas money on housing, transit
ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman’s administration prepared a $326 million wish list for the city's share of proceeds raised by the next decade of the Penny for Pinellas sales tax. It includes many priorities long clamored for by the City Council: sewage system fixes and a new Shore Acres Recreation Center.
But Kriseman’s list didn’t include money for affordable housing or transit. So in front of a room full of Faith and Action for Strength Together (FAST) members — who last month urged council members to dedicate 10 percent of the city’s portion of the 1 percent countywide sales tax to affordable housing — the council told the mayor's office to tear up that list and come back next month with one dedicating at least $15 million to those needs.
Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin said the city would have a revised list ready by the June 8 meeting. The county wants the city to outline its spending plans by early July deadline for the next round of funds raised by the Penny for Pinellas. It will begin in 2020 if voters approve renewing the 1-cent sales tax in November.
Council member Karl Nurse had proposed shifting $21 million of Penny proposals (seawall maintenance and a downtown parking garage) to be paid for using revenue generated by the Downtown Tax Increment Financing District.
But Tomalin and City Administrator Gary Cornwell said county leaders have already indicated that they plan to end the city’s downtown TIF district early next decade.
“We can’t guarantee that will be a source of funding going forward,” Cornwell said at a meeting Thursday to discuss Penny projects.
Instead, Tomalin said, the city would bring council members back a revised Penny wish list that would cut $21 million from other projects.
“The work for us is to figure out, with our team, where in those projects that money can be found,” Tomalin said. “It comes out of other things on that list ... and we will share with you the considerations of the consequences of that choice.”
Council chairwoman Darden Rice said in a city where more and more people are struggling to find affordable housing, city leaders must make it a priority.
Failing schools and crumbling transportation systems are in need of cash, she said, but those are regional issues.
“Housing, that is where we can make a difference,” she said.
What type of housing is still up for debate. Council member Steve Kornell wants an emphasis on homeownership, such as Habitat for Humanity's programs that help offset gentrifying pressures. Council member Amy Foster said greater “density” housing, preferably near transit, is the only way the city will be able to make a dent in the problem.
Nearly half the city, Foster said, is one paycheck away from homelessness.
“We’re not going to be able to build our way out the problem," she said. "But we have to start somewhere.”
Those details will be discussed in greater detail at the June meeting. The council also voted to find $6 million for transit funding to help the cash-strapped Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.
Still, Penny funds wouldn’t be available for more than three years and current projections might be dashed if a recession hits before then, warned Council member Charlie Gerdes.
But the city should put affordable housing on the list to show the county — and city residents — that it’s a priority.
Said Gerdes: "All we’re saying is ... we know it’s the right thing to do.”
Contact Charlie Frago at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago.