REDINGTON BEACH — Redington Beach will make itself known and lobby to get its share of the state budget pie during the next legislative session in Tallahassee.
During their meeting Nov. 17, commissioners unanimously voted to follow the lead of other cities that seek state funding for their expensive capital infrastructure projects and hire a lobbyist.
When Mayor David Will brought up the idea to hire an experienced local lobbyist — who has helped bring millions of dollars in state funding to St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island and Madeira Beach — Commissioner Tim Kornijtschuk said, “We should have had a program like this way back when. We should have been chasing those dollars since forever.”
Will explained he has been going to political functions “to build relationships with our local representatives and other local officials. At one of these functions, I’m listening to the other mayors celebrating their success at receiving appropriations money from the state Legislature.”
The mayor said he asked local representatives how Redington Beach can get some of this money in the next session. “I found out the main reason we’ve never received this money is we haven’t asked for it,” Will told fellow commissioners.
Officials from other municipalities told Will the town would need to identify a project that deserved funding and get an endorsement from local representative, one from the House and one from the Senate.
Will said he spoke with Jeff Brandes, the state senator representing the beaches, and “he is more than happy to sponsor us.” State House Rep. Linda Chaney “is also more than happy to sponsor us,” he said.
The mayor said he also asked officials from neighboring beach cities what kind of projects have the best chance of getting funded. They told him road projects had the best opportunity.
“We just happen to have a road project that we’d like to do,” Will noted. “I then asked what amount of money has the best chance of getting funded?” He said he was told a million and a half dollars.
“I said, I think that will work for us, we’ll take a million and a half,” the mayor recalled.
Three neighboring barrier island cities — St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island and Madeira Beach — credited their appropriation windfalls to the work of lobbyist RJ Myers of Shumaker Advisors in Tampa.
Will told fellow commissioners he found “RJ is a local consultant. He lives in this area. He knows this area and he also knows his way around Tallahassee.”
During a Nov. 17 phone call with the Town Commission, Myers explained, “The benefit of having a consultant is to have someone who can be your voice at the negotiating table, when state leaders are deliberating over our budget. I think it’s important to have someone with those relationships to help guide issues that are important to you across the finish line.”
Myers said he had helped obtain about $2.4 million for Madeira Beach for two projects — the beach groin rehabilitation project at $1.8 million and the rest for roadway improvements.
Treasure Island got $375,000 for a smaller project to rehabilitate a sewer lift station, and St. Pete Beach got $1.5 million for road improvements. Working with the governor’s office and the Department of Economic Opportunity, Myers helped land a $2 million grant for St. Pete Beach for sewer and roadway projects along Gulf Boulevard.
“There’s a pretty significant pot of money that the state is still sitting on that we’ve received from the federal government, and a lot of that money is expected to be incorporated in the state budget this year, so we have a surplus,” Myers told town officials.
As far as road projects and resurfacing in Redington Beach, “We have a really good chance of bringing home money for your town.”
Will told commissioners that while there is no certainty in hiring a lobbyist, “there is only opportunity, but I think it’s definitely worth a try when you consider the amount invested against the possible gain.”
Myers advised the next legislative session will run from the beginning of January to the second week of March. Typically, the legislature works on the budget throughout the session, but negotiations and horse-trading intensifies around Week 6 or 7, so the town would have a good idea by the end of February or beginning of March a project is going to be funded.
“You still have to survive the governor’s veto pen,” he said. “We would lobby the governor’s office to make sure he doesn’t veto the project. The governor has been signing the budget closer to the fiscal year, so we would see the veto list mid-June.”
Town commissioners voted to hire Myers and his lobbying firm for $2,500 a month.
“Hopefully we can be successful for you guys, but if you guys say you don’t think this is going in the direction you wanted it to, you just have to give 30 days notice and we would terminate the contract,” Myers said.