St. Pete Budget Hearing reveals less ambitious funding for police reform

By Deirdre O’Leary

ST PETERSBURG – The first of two public meetings on the FY21 St. Petersburg City Budget was held Sept. 3 via Zoom. City councilors and Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin heard from nearly 20 residents who spoke for almost an hour.  All expressed concern that the funding allotted for the new Community Assistance Liaison (CAL) program was insufficient and much less than what had been initially announced.

In response to ongoing protests for police reform, on July 9, Mayor Rick Kriseman and Police Chief Anthony Holloway announced a $3.8 million diversion of funding for the police department to a new program, Community Assistance Liaison (CAL).  The police will outsource approximately five percent of its calls to a team of 20 social workers who will respond to non-criminal calls, such as public drunkenness, reports on homeless individuals, and people having a mental health crisis.

However, when the budget was released, many were surprised to see the CAL program’s funding was only $850,000.  Officials explained that the $3.8 million would be spent over three years. An additional $3.1 million in federal funding will be used for the CAL program instead of hiring 25 new officers, according to the July 9 press conference.

Holloway spoke about the CAL program. “Since it is a pilot program we will be working alongside them to see how they are doing.”  In the beginning, uniformed police officers will accompany social workers on nonviolent calls.  This also differs from the initial press conference, when Holloway stated CAL workers would respond to calls, “So when that person is in a crisis, they’re not looking at this uniform.”

Funding for the Carter G. Woodson Museum, $700,000 total, is moving from the capital improvement budget to the general fund this year. No explanation was given for this change. The city bought the museum building in 2015 from the St. Petersburg Housing Authority.

Many residents also spoke to the $600,000 set aside for “workforce housing” as inadequate.  City officials explained that another $7 million was set aside in the capital budget to be used at the rate of $1 million per year over five years towards land acquisition for affordable housing.

Budgeted for intervention and prevention through the Cohort of Champions and My Brother’s and Sister’s Keeper (MBSK) programming for at-risk youth is $675,000. Another $50,000 for the Tampa Bay Black Business Investment Corporation and $50,000 for the STEP program for substance abuse prevention have been set aside.

The entire city budget for FY21 is $670,899,000.  Ad valorem revenue from property taxes, $148,252,000, is by city policy directed 100 percent to the police and fire departments. The General Fund totals $292,825,001.  The police line item is $116,623,605, by far the largest line item in the General fund budget.

Homeowners will see their utility rates increase.  Drinking water rates will rise 2.25 percent, and wastewater rates will increase by 7.25 percent; stormwater fees will increase 10.07 percent. There is a three percent increase in sanitation fees.

The millage rate for FY21 will remain the same at 6.7550.  Property taxes could still increase if the assessment of the property rises. Changes can be made to the budget until it is formally adopted before the new fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

Residents are allowed to speak at budget hearings.  The next and final virtual public hearing will be Sept. 17 at 6 p.m.  Download the instructions for the Zoom at StPete.org/meetings.

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