With less than two years before being term-limited, Bob Buckhorn fought off the temptation to wallow on his accomplishments as Tampa mayor, versus what’s left to come, during his State of the City address.
Speaking Tuesday morning for exactly half an hour at Kiley Park (after a 23-minute pregame show featuring a performance by the Tampa City Choir, as well as an appearance by City Councilman Guido Maniscalco), the speech was vintage Buckhorn — down to the passages adapted from his stump speech about how the city has come clawing back furiously from the depths of the Great Depression of the late aughts to flourish under his regime.
“Together we brought this city back from rock bottom,” he intoned. “Together we rose up from the ashes of an economic apocalypse.”
There were plenty of statistics thrown into the mix to illustrate how the city has progressed since he defeated Rose Ferlita in a runoff election for mayor just over six years ago: employment up 24 percent; over $11 billion in construction projects; $24 million invested in computing infrastructure and upgrades to the city’s technology dept.
And there was more. More than a million square feet of new commercial development in Ybor City; More than 6,000 residential units in downtown, nearly 300 hotel rooms, and 800,000 new square feet of commercial space in the Westshore business district.
More than 92 miles of new bike lanes, 45 miles of new sidewalks, 400 acres of new green space, including 10 new parks and over 9,000 new trees planted.
The lure to spend more time looking backward than forwards is something Buckhorn will increasingly be called to stave off over the next 24 months.
At a news conference last month announcing he would not run for governor, the mayor bristled slightly when a reporter asked him to look back at his achievements, joking he still had plenty of fuel left in his tank.
Buckhorn did use the speech to introduce a new program called Autism Friendly Tampa, in association with USF’s CARD program (Center for Autism and Related Disabilities) to make Tampa one of America’s most inclusive cities.
“One in every 68 individuals are diagnosed with Autism,” he said. “And each one of those impacted have their own unique challenges. A seemingly simple trip to the pool or downtown event can be complicated. Finding a summer program could be impossible. As Mayor, I am committed to making our public spaces, city facilities, parks, and programs more friendly for those touched by Autism and related disabilities.”
He also talked about the future, and how autonomous vehicles will be a part of that equation. The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway is working on a “Connected Vehicle” projects on the Selmon Expressway that would allow cars to talk to each other and the infrastructure.
“This technology will improve pedestrian safety, address traffic congestion, improve transportation operations and prevent wrong-way crashes, and Tampa — our Tampa — is the test bed,” he said.
City government is much leaner over the past decade since the wheels came off both Florida and America’s economy; Buckhorn noted how much less property revenue is coming into the city, due in part to that state’s three percent cap on property tax hikes.
In 2007, the city generated over $166.2 million in property tax revenue. That’s more than $12 million than the $153 million the fiscal year 2017 budget submitted to the City Council.
Buckhorn said the city won’t get back to 2007 levels until the fiscal year 2019.
Buckhorn also took shots at the Rick Scott and Richard Corcoran led state government, and Donald Trump‘s federal government, saying their policies are more of a burden for cities like Tampa.
“Sources of revenue that are reduced or eliminated, partnerships eviscerated, and programs decimated are potentially looming, all of which have potentially have an impact on our bottom line,” Buckhorn said.
“This is a different city than it was six years ago,” he said in conclusion. “And its last chapter has yet to be written … We have work to do, because our future begins today.”
No doubt, Buckhorn was also talking about his own tenure.