Pinellas County Commission Chair Ken Welch urges fellow commissioners Oct. 8 to approve continuing to work with St. Petersburg toward creating a Community Redevelopment Area to help combat the county’s poverty.
CLEARWATER – Despite budget concerns, Pinellas County Commissioners unanimously agreed to continue work with the city of St. Petersburg to create a Community Development Area to combat the problem of blight and poverty.
Commissioner Janet Long was absent.
A study released last year identified five areas in the county that were most impoverished: south St. Petersburg, north Greenwood, east Tarpon Springs, Highpoint and Lealman.
County Administrator Bob LaSala told commissioners during an Oct. 8 meeting that the plan the city and staff were working on to address the problem made sense.
“It may well serve as a precursor or model for the other four areas,” he said.
He recommended that the county approve conducting a blight study for the Southside St. Petersburg CRA and extend the deadline 120 days to come up with an interlocal agreement between the city and county to establish two tax increment financing districts and two redevelopment trust funds within the CRA.
The proposed redevelopment area is about 4,700 acres, about 12 percent of the city’s land, with a population of about 34,000, or 14 percent of the city’s total population.
Commissioner Susan Latvala asked why the county’s wasn’t considering work for all five identified areas.
“The volume of work is enormous,” LaSala said.
He also said he didn’t think any other city was ready to begin, adding that the county didn’t have the capacity to undertake multiple blight studies at one time.
Latvala said she preferred to wait until the commission had a discussion to prioritize need and balance that need with county resources.
Commissioner Charlie Justice said he thought the county should prioritize the Lealman area to make sure it had the appropriate level of support.
“Four areas have city support and one doesn’t. Lealman should have our focus,” Justice said.
Commissioner Karen Seel assured Justice that Lealman was on the county’s radar and she said the Juvenile Welfare Board would be working in that area. She also agreed with Latvala’s concerns.
“If we do this for one city we have to be prepared to do for others,” she said.
“St. Petersburg is the No. 1 city in our county,” Commission John Morroni said. “Their CRA will be a great exercise for the others.”
St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster urged the commission to approve continuing with the project.
“It is most important that we pass this and work together,” he said.
He echoed LaSala’s thinking that St. Petersburg could provide the model for other areas.
He said the plan allowed the resources necessary to go after grants and provide long-term service to the community.
“This is important. This is of countywide importance,” he said. “It’s all about change. It’s all about people.”
There are still many details to work out, but everyone agreed that it was time to move forward. Final approval of the CRA is not expected until sometime in 2014.
“Forty-five percent of our kids live in poverty,” Commission Chair Ken Welch said. “This is just as important as the sea level rising or flood insurance. Our community is not stable with this level of poverty.”