tampabay.com

Sorry, don't ask for money

Expecting less property tax , St. Petersburg gives service and arts groups bad news.

By AARON SHAROCKMAN
Published May 4, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - Facing a looming state mandate to cut spending, City Council members took the extraordinary step Thursday of saying they likely will not subsidize any community or social service groups next year.

The dictum, which came during a morning council meeting, could save the city up to $1.86-million next year but cripple several prominent city organizations.

On the chopping block, among others, are subsidies for the Florida Orchestra, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Festival of Bands, the First Night celebration, the St. Petersburg Tennis Center and alcohol treatment centers.

Council members say the cuts are unavoidable if the significant rollbacks proposed in Tallahassee are adopted.

Organizations should not even apply for the money, council members said.

"To say this is a bluff and nothing's going to happen is very wrong, " said council member Jeff Danner.

The subsidies, called nondepartmental expenditures, make up a fraction of the city's $570-million annual budget. But the costs are perhaps the easiest to cut because they do not fund city programs.

The money supports a wide variety of services. City funds help pay for everything from the Festival of States Parade to the Mustard Seed Foundation, an alcohol and drug treatment center located on First Avenue S.

"The people at the end of the food chain are the ones that suffer here, " said Don Shea, the director of the Downtown Partnership, which uses a $40, 000 city subsidy to help operate the Downtown Looper trolley.

Shea blames state legislators for what he describes as short-sightedness. In a rush to attack local governments, legislators have forgotten that the arts and social services community will be the ones that ultimately suffer, Shea said.

The downtown trolley may have to reduce its operating schedule, Shea said. Cuts in other places may even be worse, council members acknowledge.

Council member Bill Foster on Thursday quipped that the city should change its motto to immortalize what may be the city's bleak future.

"St. Petersburg, " he said, "the city of essential services."