Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has rarely been at odds with the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce during his six-and-a-half years in office.
But his proposal to raise property taxes in the city for the first time in 29 years is being rejected by the Chamber.
“After considerable review of the proposed millage increase, we do not agree that there is sufficient justification for the proposed tax increase on residents and businesses,” said Mike Griffin, the chamber’s chair.
“Business leaders in Tampa make tough budgetary decisions to keep their companies running effectively; we expect that same leadership from our elected officials,” Chamber CEO Bob Rohrlack added. “We recognize the challenges facing the city resulting from previous debts but feel a tax increase to pay for them sets a dangerous precedent.”
The City Council voted Monday night to support the mayor’s $974.2 budget plan, which raises the millage rate from $5.7326 to $6.3326 per $1,000 of assessed value. That’s a reduction of the original proposal that Buckhorn asked the council to approve back in July.
A confluence of factors led the mayor to request the first millage increase in nearly three decades. They include two large bills now due that go back to initiatives that the City Council approved more than two decades ago under the Dick Greco administration. Both those measures were supported by Buckhorn, who sat on the council at the time.
There is also the concern that the Legislature will expand the homestead exemption next year. That issue goes before voters in 2018 and is expected to pass.
If so, city officials say that will take away approximately $6 million in revenue. There is also discussion the Legislature will mandate that local governments in Florida would need to get approval from the Legislature to raise property taxes.
Buckhorn’s budget proposal barely passed with council support on Monday, 4-3. Councilman Mike Suarez expressed disappointment that Buckhorn neglected to inform the council until earlier this summer about the large bills now due.
In the Chamber statement, Griffin added, “We hope that City Council and Mayor Buckhorn will use their upcoming deliberations to find a solution to our city’s debt challenges that does not raise taxes on residents and businesses and works to maintain our designation as one of the most affordable cities in not only the state but also the country.”
However, there is only one more public hearing set for next Thursday before the council passes the budget. Under the city charter, the council could vote to reduce the millage increase next week.
Considered a political centrist, Buckhorn has mostly been completely in synch with the right-of-center Chamber’s agenda since his election in 2011, though they have parted ways on some issues during his tenure.
One of those disagreements has been on outreach to Cuba, an issue that the Chamber has embraced in recent years, while Buckhorn remains a Cold Warrior on the topic.