ST. PETE BEACH — City manager Alex Rey opened up a can of worms over what to do with $188,000 in unused beautification funds left in the city budget when he offered a series of compromises, including one that would have the commissioner from each of the city’s four districts decide how a portion of the funds would be allocated to enhance their area.
The idea did not sit well with Commissioner Melinda Pletcher at the March 23 commission meeting. She reminded the board that the city has $188,000 in the budget allocated for the street signs because during budget hearings, commissioners agreed to utilize those funds for decorated street signs in her Pass-A-Grille district. However, the idea was subsequently voted down when it came to the purchase agreement hearing.
At that hearing a narrow majority of commissioners felt the funds should be spent on more urgent projects, such as to alleviate street flooding. One commissioner questioned why Pass-A-Grille often gets funding for park improvements and other amenities, while other districts are seemingly ignored.
At the latest meeting, Rey told commissioners he doesn’t like to see money sit in the city budget left unused. Under a compromise option, he proposed the $188,000 be divided between each district, with each getting $48,000 for their own beautification project.
“Beautification issues in each district might take on a different character or different needs,” he explained. For example, “one idea would be to give each district commissioner a preference in terms of what kind of improvements they would like to see in their district.”
“If one commissioner wants to place street name signs with their $48,000, we can do that. If another commissioner wants to spend it all on landscaping, you can do that. If you want to do a mix with some signs and some landscaping we can do that, or if you want to have a painting party we can do that. Things that are really district-specific, with small little projects, we can fund with that money, because it’s just sitting there and not being used,” Rey added.
“If we find that it works for the whole group, then we can probably allocate another $50,000 per district next year to allow for some projects that we might not even have thought about. I can work with individual commissioners to see what we want to buy with that money in their district, and bring those allocations and projects to the commission.”
However, Pletcher advocated for the funds to go back through the budget process to avoid “subjectivity.”
“I think every district has different needs and wants and beautification projects,” Pletcher said. “I would like to think that as a commission we would at least be bringing those ideas to our budget workshops, and not have so much subjectivity to each district’s allocations, because that’s typically the process.”
Mayor Al Johnson said the reason the money is still in the budget “is because everyone pitched a fit over spending the money on decorative signs, as opposed to fixing things like sewers. Reallocating the money by district might make sense, but you’re still allocating the money on things not absolutely necessary, which was the complaint that everybody had. So, it doesn’t really solve the reason we didn’t do the street signs in the first place.”
Rey noted the city is already spending a lot of money on big costly projects, such as street resurfacing, sewer work and electrical undergrounding. He added the beautification effort “is really pennies on the dollar in terms of our overall expenditure. To me it all falls into a beautification category, street name signs beautify the city, but so do trees, and that is where I was trying to find a compromise.”
The city manager advised Pass-A Grille could get its street sign project completed with the city’s second allocation of beautification funds. “My sense is when people see the street signs, they will say, ‘I want that too,’” Rey said.
He also noted the amount for the entire Pass-A-Grille street sign project was $125,000, so another option is to do the entire Pass-A-Grille area this year for $125,000 and then use the other $60,000 for something else.
“I’m just trying to get the ball moving, because I hate to see money there and we end up not using it for anything,” he said.
Johnson suggested the best thing to do would be to bring up the $188,000 during the budget process. “We take the money and see what each district really needs,” the mayor said. “The districts are different. We have a bunch of different-character districts, and let’s do what makes sense for each one. I don’t know if that means allocating the money equally.”
No one objected to the mayor’s suggestion, so the matter will come up again during the budget process.