The St. Petersburg City Council began its process to form the fiscal year 2014 budget by letting the city's budget staff know its priorities for next year.
Topping the list for Council is:
- Hiring more police officers,
- Giving raises to city employees who have not received a raise in four years.
Council member Charlie Gerdes said priority No. 1 for him is public safety. The top question on his mind is if the current 545 sworn St. Petersburg Police officers are enough to police the city.
"Maybe we need some more officers," Gerdes said Thursday. "But I’d like to see the real data. I think we need to have that discussion."
Council member Bill Dudley echoed Gerdes' comments. He said that neighborhoods, businesses, real estate and tourism benefit from a safer community.
"My No. 1 priority is public safety," Dudley said. "Public safety (is) the linchpin to everything ... If people feel that they live in a safe environment, that they can raise their families here, work here, can create jobs here, people are going to move here.
"It's the single most important (thing) we can do to develop our community," Dudley added.
Council member Steve Kornell said that without raises for city employees he is unlikely to vote for the 2014 budget.
"I think it’s been too long," Kornell said. "That’s a top priority for me. I’m very unlikely to vote for a budget that does not include raises for employees."
Council chair Karl Nurse said that while it was necessary to hold off on raises during the economic downturn, the city risks losing great employees as the economy starts to rebound.
"We have to give our employees some kind of raise," Nurse said. "Employees costs have all gone up. We will lose our best employees as the economy recovers."
Gerdes said there needs to be an incentive/goal-based program for raises and possibly a cost-of-living increase.
Specific talks about cuts and investments were not discussed Thursday, but Dudley did say while he preferred not raising the millage rate again the city might have to in order to achieve its top priorities for 2014.
"(We) don’t want to increase taxes but sometimes it’s a necessary evil," Dudley said.
Council voted to increase the millage rate for 2013.
Other priorities listed Thursday by council members included investing in neighborhoods, not cutting libraries/parks and rec, investing in economic development and investing in youth programs.