The St. Petersburg City Council voted 6-2 Thursday to look further into the potential consequences of a proposed local hiring ordinance before deciding whether to adopt it.
The vote came after city staff and Mayor Bill Foster said the local hiring policy, as proposed, would increase costs for construction and staff to oversee projects. He warned that it could harm local construction businesses.
Under the proposed policy, public construction projects over $2 million would require 25 percent of the work hours to go to Pinellas County residents who are unemployed, underemployed or apprentices.
"This is not what I had in mind when I talked about local preference," Foster said of the proposed policy. "I would not recommend that it would be read today or passed on first reading. At this point it would be an unfunded mandate on this administration "
Mike Connors, St. Pete's public works administrator, said the $2 million threshold for the proposed local hiring policy would only affect about a half-dozen projects a year.
"During the course of construction, staff would then have to monitor all the labor done on the project to determine the total labor and then review payroll records, which the contractor would have to submit," Connors said.
Connors added that the policy would strain city administration.
"... This ordinance would be very egregious and it would cost money," Connors said. "(The) engineering director and city architect would have to employ at least one, if not two additional staff members to monitor the project in order to comply with the ordinance."
Council members Leslie Curran and Jeff Danner strongly argued Thursday that the problem isn't the lack of local jobs, but the lack of a trained workforce. They said the priority should be on apprenticeships and training.
Danner said there is nearly a quarter billion dollars in private sector construction projects in the works that the ordinance would not affect.
"I think the point was made, these are just very small scale projects to what’s going on the private industry," Curran added. "We may do them good for one instance but not in the future."
According to city documents, if passed as it is currently proposed, the local hiring policy would also, "require contractors to submit a list of the resources which will be used to identify unemployed, underemployed and apprentice workers, a list of subcontractors proposed to be used for the construction project and a description of the work performed by unemployed, underemployed or apprentice workers."
Council's vote Thursday also requires a workshop to be held within 20 days from Thursday.
Voting no were council members Steve Kornell and Wengay Newton who said the local hiring ordinance has been delayed long enough.
"We do have a (unemployment) problem here in the city and doing nothing is not an option," Newton said. "I support this ordinance ...When they can’t find work and be fruitful they will find other ways to do that, and (those) ways will costs us. Through crime and other illicit activities."
"I don’t fee like stopping it anymore," Kornell said of the local hiring ordinance.
Council member Jim Kennedy said before another local hiring ordinance is drafted, St. Pete needs to look at places like Sarasota that have priority hiring for local workers.