Pinellas is moving forward

BY COMMISSIONER KENNETH T. WELCH

I’d like to update Weekly Challenger readers on several Pinellas County projects and policies that are moving our community forward in significant ways, including community development, housing and poverty reduction.

South St. Petersburg CRA – Pinellas County funding for Community Redevelopment Areas (CRAs) has historically been limited to downtown districts – like the funding for the current St. Petersburg Pier project. Working with the community, the County Commission is changing this approach to better focus on the needs of communities that are disproportionately impacted by poverty, starting in south St. Petersburg. For the first time in Pinellas, a CRA is being created with the specific goal of poverty reduction and a commitment of long term County and City funding.

This approach will focus not only on building things, but also on empowering people to break the cycle of poverty through a variety of proven tools and programs. The projects will be identified and approved under a governance structure which includes a Citizens Advisory Committee, the City and County. The Commission will soon vote on the funding component of this CRA, which is an estimated $28 million over the next 30 years, and I will continue to strongly support county funding for this groundbreaking initiative.

Living Wage – many in our community work overtime or multiple jobs, but still live in poverty. I believe that if we value work as a society, then we should pay wages that meet basic living expenses. That is why I asked our County Commission to implement a living wage policy for Pinellas County employees. With the unanimous support of my Commission colleagues, the County Administrator is developing the plan, which should bring the minimum wage for county employees up to approximately $12.50/hour. I have spoken with our Sheriff and County Clerk, and am hopeful that they will participate in this program as well. Finally, I am working with our Administrator to review methods for incentivizing business that contract with Pinellas County to have a living wage policy as well. It is good economic policy, but more importantly it is the right thing to do.

Ban the Box – many in our community are ex-offenders, and having served their time, find it difficult to obtain employment. There are many factors to this scenario, but one strong impediment is the question on many employment applications regarding previous convictions. Our County Administrator is working to remove this question from County employment applications, and I fully support this effort to remove a barrier to employment and community reintegration for ex-offenders. Employment is an important component of community development and poverty reduction.

Penny for Pinellas – the County is providing $28.2 million in capital funds for

projects to improve public safety, housing, roads and pedestrian/bike paths in St. Petersburg. The County Commission recently approved the agreement, which includes $2 million for Jamestown Apartments renovations, and $20.2 million for the construction of a new Police headquarters.

Transportation – One of the most important aspects of the failed Greenlight Pinellas initiative is that it would have prevented cuts in existing bus services. The PSTA board is now weighing several options, and I will provide you with updates as we progress. It is imperative that we maintain the access to opportunity that the bus service provides, and that so many in our community depend on every day.

Thank you for the opportunity to update you on these important County initiatives. I welcome your input, and I or my Executive Aide Darlina Herring can be reached at 727-464-3614, or at kwelch@pinellascounty.org.

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