Michael Van Sickler has a great story in Tuesday's Tampa Bay Times on the Pier vs. Police Station battle brewing in St. Petersburg. The story lays out the problems with the funding sources and the problems with an apples-to-apples comparison of the Pier and the Police Department headquarters.
Any attempt to co-mingle funds for these projects is a financial nightmare. It is unlikely the city could keep it straight and not create a bigger controversy, if it tried. Everyone from the county on down would be screaming foul as an ox got gored.
This whole mess is just a full-blown manifestation of Mayor Bill Foster's poor leadership. Foster should have stuck with his commitment to public safety and put the Pier in proper perspective with city needs.
State Rep Rick Kriesman (D-St. Petersburg) summed it all up very clearly; "A station should take precedent over a pier."
It is really hard to understand how Foster can't seem to figure that out.
There may be another way. There is already talk about scaling back the Police Building, maybe consolidating the 911 center with the County, eliminating a parking garage and making a few other changers that could lower the building cost.
Let's not go on the cheap, but design a practical and functional Police Headquarters that can be built for say $50 to $60 million. With $32 Million already in the Penny for Pinellas account, that would leave us a shortfall of $18 to $28 million.
Last time I checked, the city had several hundred million dollars in investments and rainy day funds. Councils have guarded these funds with great tenacity in the past and that has been a solid approach. The argument has properly been, let's not use these funds for operating expenses. And they’re right.
But this is a onetime infrastructure expense. Now may be the time to look at this funding source.
But now with the city having growing law enforcement problems, and a police facility that has been judged by everyone who has taken the time to look at it as unfit for the task, it may just be time to cash in what would be between 4 and 6 percent of those investments and build a functional Police Headquarters.
That's pretty small cut of a big investment pool to provide for the most essential need in the City, Public Safety.
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