The third and final budget summit for the city's fiscal year 2013 budget will be held tonight at at the Manhattan Casino, 642 22nd St. S. at 6 p.m. The city anticipates a $13 million shortfall in next year's spending plan and is looking for input from the public on what priorities the city should have going forward.
Mayor Bill Foster has said that next year's budget shortfall cannot be met by cuts alone. It has to be met, he said, with a mixture of increased revenue and cuts.
"We have found that it will no longer be doing more with less," Foster said at the May budget summit. "Gets to this point where we are doing less with less."
Cutting $13 million, Foster cautioned, would force rec centers to closer earlier, limited operating hours for libraries, a decrease in services and programming and even a reduction in the city's most expensive department, the police.
"We can cut $13 million but it will begin the de-evolution of a city decades in the making," Foster said.
During the first budget summit, which was held in April, an overwhelming majority of residents that rather than cutting services.
Only one speaker of the 32 was opposed to any type of property tax increase.
Brett Page, a St. Pete resident, said he once paid $4,400 in local property taxes in St. Pete. Now, however, he pays $2,200 less.
"I’m more than willing to pay what’s necessary to keep the city running," Page said at the April budget meeting. "You should set your needs in your budget and (then) set your revenues to met those needs."
The with a few residents angrily shouting toward the council that they and the city's spending were the problem, not the budget.
"The (budget) shortfall is a phony," said city council candidate David McKalip. "We hear the same fear mongering. This is all nonsense; build memorial piers to ourselves, silly wasteful street projects ... $75,000 pension and benefits. You have a political class and the rest of us.
"This is a sham, charade, political circus," McKalip continued. "You have all made up your minds. This is a joke. You are having parties at the Trop while the rest of see our taxes go up. The political class is sucking the life out of us. Each one of you are the reason for our problems."
The goal, Foster said, is to find $10 million in additional revenue and make $3 million in cuts. In addition to the possibility of increasing the millage rate, the city is exploring that would be applied to all parcels in St. Pete.
Council member Jim Kennedy is in favor of this plan because it gets more people on the tax rolls and is not affected by swings in the economy. Each parcel would be tax and that money would go toward paying for St. Pete's fire and rescue expenses.
Kennedy said closing the gap with millage only, “will have a chilling effect on the real estate market. If we put everything on the millage rate, it will have a negative effect on people buying property in St. Petersburg.”
“When it is a fire assessment fee, people know where the money is going,” said City Attorney John Wolfe at a May council meeting. “When you do a tax it can go anywhere.”
City Council should get the Mayor's proposed FY13 budget in early July with the proposed millage rate set by the end of July. Council will consider the proposed package in September.
The People's Budget Review is continuing its budget survey push to have 10,000 surveys taken by the September public hearings on the city's budget. As of Tuesday the group has collected more than 4,200 surveys.