Is Giving TIF Money to St. Petersberg Good for Floridians?

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It’s time to rethink the way TIF money is being used in St. Petersburg. The tax increment financing in question was originally created in 1982, and is currently set to expire in 2032. But some city council members wonder if it’s past time to revisit the TIF district and put the money to better use; hopefully actually benefiting Floridians.

Tens of millions of dollars have already been thrown into the downtown beautification of St. Petersburg, while south St. Petersburg and other neighborhoods are suffering. City council members like Steve Kornell, Wengay Newton, and Karl Nurse have all expressed their concern over how the TIF money is being used. Their fear is that the TIF funds will all be dumped into minor (but expensive) projects in the downtown area when other parts of St. Petersburg need the money for more practical uses.

Some city council members say it’s time to consider winding down the potentially unnecessary TIF within the next five years, then refocus and restructure efforts on improving St. Petersburg. Others suggest keeping the TIF alive and well, but instead, set aside roughly $10 million to more urgent projects than sprucing up… such as much-needed sewer repairs.

Several city staff members recently estimated it would take $350 million to fix damaged and quickly aging pipes and make other necessary improvements to St. Petersburg’s sewer and drainage system. But starting with some of the TIF money could be a good start.

Just last month, heavy summer rains overloaded the city’s outdated drainage system so severely that they were forced to dump more than 16 million gallons of untreated or partially treated sewage into Tampa Bay, as well as Boca Ciega Bay. So tell us again why we need new landscaping in downtown St. Petersburg when the bays are being covered in raw sewage?

According to St. Petersburg city council member Nurse, “It’s about trying to get downtown to carry its overhead, instead of downtown ‘pretty’ projects.”

When so many areas of St. Petersburg are combatting poverty, crime, homelessness, unemployment, and aging city systems that negatively impact the health and happiness of Floridians, many are having to receive car title loans just to get by. Nurse says the original TIF plans no longer make sense. He is one of the many who support reallocating some of the project funds to more sensible (if not as flashy) upgrades to the city.

Meanwhile, the newest additions to the downtown waterfront master plan is expected to require tens of millions more before it’s completed. The goal is to improve the St. Petersburg downtown area leading up to the Pier, which is also in need of TIF project funds. While this contributes to the beauty of St. Petersburg and encourages tourism and more high-rise development in the area, it’s not really contributing to the welfare of Floridians.

With more construction going up in the St. Petersburg downtown and pier district, and with more TIF-funded projects on the way in the same area, it might be time to revisit the St. Petersburg TIF plans. Winding it down or reallocating the existing money… whatever the solution, it’s more likely to improve the lives of lower-income Floridians than a new waterfront bike path aimed at the wealthy.