Flood Prevention: ‘You Paid For It’ in St. Pete, but what did you buy?

St. Petersburg still has drainage issues despite taxpayer funding.
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St. Petersburg still has drainage issues despite taxpayer funding.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) — When it comes to drainage projects, You Paid For It in St. Petersburg. But despite the taxes that residents have paid, drainage is still a problem.

City taxpayers have shelled out a fortune for improvements to their city’s drainage and storm water systems since 1990, but they’d be hard pressed to notice that during last week’s deluge and the street flooding that still exists today.

Robert Stewart patrolled the streets as a city cop for 27 years and has lived here all of his life. He wonders what happened to all of the Penny for Pinellas money and monthly stormwater fees that were supposed to address flood control.

“It looks like it we’re not buying too much I’d like to find out what we are paying for the six dollars or seven dollars were paying for plus the Penny for PInellas,” Stewart said. “We’ve been having a problem down here for years and nothings been done about it.”

“There’s a lot of anxiety,” said homeowner Daphne Davis who lives near Lake Maggiore.  “It’s worse than it’s ever been.”

On Thursday,  Davis’ home was still surrounded by water too deep to drive through.

The water under her home has caused the floorboards to buckle in her living room. She can’t even open her front door because the flooring is so contorted.

“It makes us very upset as taxpayers,” said Davis. “I would expect a little bit more.”

And why not?

The Penny for Pinellas sales tax repeated approved by Pinellas voters has raised $496.5 million since its inception in 1990 to pay for capital improvements inside the St. Petersburg city limits. Most of that money has been spent on other things, instead of drainage.

St. Petersburg still has drainage issues despite taxpayer funding.
St. Petersburg still has drainage issues despite taxpayer funding.

“You don’t get to put your name on it, you don’t have a fancy ribbon cutting, people don’t get to see it,” said St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.

A storm water fee tied to drainage issues has been steadily rising—like the city’s flood waters every time it rains hard. It has collected an estimated $200 more since 1991, all of it earmarked for stormwater control.

“It’s keeping us, I hate to say the phrase, with our head just above water but obviously we’re not staying above water right now,” said Kriseman. “It got to this point from a lot of years of– in some ways— inaction, different priorities that different administrations had,” said Kriseman.

The mayor insists he’s committed to solving the flooding problem now because it has become worse than he’s ever seen it before, even in his own neighborhood. But that, he says, will take a lot of planning that incorporates rising sea level predictions, rezoning and another massive injection of money that the city doesn’t currently have set aside, in addition to the $58 million it will begin spending in October to fix the city’s overwhelmed sewage system.

If you are a city resident and taxpayer, You Paid For It already and the bills will likely get even larger if the city plans to do something other than tread flood water into the next decade.The mayor says it’s too big for city residents to shoulder alone and a master plan will also require financial help form the state and federal governments.

But at the end of the day the same city taxpayers and homeowners who have dug deep into their pockets for nearly 30 years, will have to dig deeper. You Paid For It and You’ll pay for it some more. “We’ve got to invest the money and it’s going to be painful,” said Kriseman.

MORE ‘YOU PAID FOR IT’ INVESTIGATIONS

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