Tampa hasn’t raised its millage fee in nearly three decades, but that tax-free streak may end soon.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn met this week with each member of the City Council in advance of presenting his budget proposal Thursday. He explained to each of them that because of long-term city debt going back to Dick Greco’s last time in office (1995-2003), the city must find a way to raise revenues.
That debt includes repayment on the Centro Ybor project, as well as the financing of a new police station funded two decades ago.
According to Councilman Frank Reddick, Buckhorn will give the Council three options for raising the millage rate – by a quarter cent, half -cent or a full cent.
“We don’t have a choice. We’ve got some difficult financial issues,” Reddick told SPB just before he spoke at a town hall meeting in East Tampa with state Representative Sean Shaw and Hillsborough School Board member Tamara Shamburger.
One of the main reasons Buckhorn is ready to raise the millage rate is what lies ahead: millions of dollars in anticipated lost revenues if a constitutional amendment expanding the homestead exemption passes. Budget director Sonya Little has said if this happens, t would be a $6-$8 million loss to the city in the first year.
“I know it’s not going to be a favorite thing, but we’ve got to do it,” Reddick said.
If the District 5 councilman sounds more eager than some other members of the Council to raise taxes, it’s because Reddick said he suggested doing so to Buckhorn awhile ago.
And while Reddick may not have to be persuaded, its a different calculus for other members of the board, several of whom are considering a run for office when they leave the Council over the next year or two.
That includes Yolie Capin, who will be running for a County Commission seat. Mike Suarez and Harry Cohen are contemplating a run for mayor in 2019.
Reddick says the idea is for the city to take action now so the next mayor won’t be faced with unpleasant choices when they succeed Buckhorn in two years.
Another factor why Buckhorn may pursue a tax increase is that he can still do so.
There are concerns that Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who believes that local government spends too much already, may try to push a measure in the 2019 Legislative Session the requires cities to get approval from the Legislature to raise taxes.
“If we’re going to do it, we need to do it now during this window, and that’s why I support it,” Reddick said.
Reddick later spoke to about 40 people at St. John Progressive Missionary Baptist Church, where he alerted them to pay attention to Thursday’s Council meeting.
“It’s not the current mayor’s fault,” he said. “Our pension funds are going up.”
Reddick said it was necessary to raise the millage rate to pay the city’s debt, but said it would not be that high increase for many people in the district. He said not to do so could hurt the city’s A+ bond rating.
“It’s not this mayor who put us in this situation,” he said. “Now the bill collector is coming in January, and saying ‘pay us our money.’ And we’ve got to pay that money, or we’ll be in trouble.”