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Tampa City Council District 7 candidates disagree on stormwater tax

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Last month, the Tampa City Council gave its approval to Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s proposal for a $251 million drainage improvement program. T

he new fee starts at $45 per year for the owner of a medium-sized home, ultimately rising to $89.55 annually after six years. The tax will be higher with those with bigger homes, and less with those with smaller homes and less pavement. Businesses will also pay the fee.

The six-member board (Yolin Capin was absent) voted 4-2 in favor of the plan. That’s the same breakdown of support among the five men and one woman running in the City Council District 7 race next month to succeed Lisa Montelione, who is leaving her seat as she runs for a state House seat.

Jim Davison calls the board’s approval of the tax, “Disappointing.”

“I would have liked to have examined the yearly slack in the budget to see if that could have possibly contributed to bringing down the cost,” says the New Tampa resident, who says it might not have even been necessary if the Buckhorn administration “could have controlled itself” with how they allocated funds from the Community Investment Tax and BP settlement funds. Davison is hardly the first person to criticize the city for spending $15 million of the $20 million in BP funds on Riverfront Park.

Davison also says that if a future City Council renews the CIT, then he thinks it could be enough income to repeal the stormwater tax.

Gene Siudut also opposes the stormwater tax.

“Among the reasons I am not in support of it are it taxes not-for-profits, such as churches and charities, it is a regressive tax when it should be ad valorem and most importantly, it does not stop flooding,” he says.”Will the plan/tax mitigate a half-inch of rain over an hour, what about twice that? We don’t know because it hasn’t been laid out. Furthermore, this is a 30-year tax, yet rising sea levels are not even a consideration.”

Siudut works as a columnist and editor at La Gaceta, the trilingual weekly newspaper. Patrick Manteiga, the paper’s editor and publisher, has written extensively on his opposition to the tax. For his part, Siudut says that give or take a few days,  flooding is only a major problem in the city for about 14 days out of the year. He says that issues like homelessness, traffic congestion, aging infrastructure, underfunded parks and a host of other issues are everyday problems. “There was no urgency to pass this flawed plan and it should have been held off until it was done right.”

The other four candidates – Ava Harrison, Luis Viera, Cyril Spiro and Orlando Gudes  all support the stormwater tax, though Gudes does say that he had hoped that there “should have been more options presented to the community and the council on how to equitably fund the project.”

Spiro says “Something had to be done. Being on national news for flooding is embarrassing.”

Harrison is very supportive, saying that it not only will help in the major flooded areas of South Tampa and small portion of East Tampa, “but will also help with the drainage and flooding issues we have in my district.”

“We have to deal with the cities infrastructure because our pipes are fifty to eighty years old,” Harrison adds. “This plan allows us to do repairs to the drainage and sewer systems thus alleviating problems in my district and city wide.”

“Our city, including parts of North Tampa, needs this kind of investment,” says Viera. “The plan properly did not include (for purposes of North Tampa/District 7) parts North of Fowler which have their own water mitigation system.  Therefore, I supported this plan.”

The 38-year-old Viera, a civil litigation attorney who works downtown and lives in Hunter’s Green, is the top fundraiser in the six-person field, having raised $58,954 through September 16.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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