The Tampa City Council voted unanimously on Wednesday to continue their first public hearing on Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s proposed fiscal year 2018 budget until Monday, Sept. 18 at 6:00 p.m.
The board opened their meeting as scheduled at 5 p.m., but did not discuss what will ultimately be the first increase in the city’s millage rate in 29 years, due to the fact that the city is still reeling from Hurricane Irma, which passed through Tampa on Sunday night as a Category 2 Hurricane. How much of an increase has yet to be determined.
Though the city did not take the direct hit that was feared in the days leading up to last Sunday, tens of thousands of people are still without power in their homes and are dealing in some cases with major issues regarding downed trees and power lines on their streets.
The Council must hold two public hearings before voting on the budget. City Attorney Sal Territo advised the council to hold their public hearing on Sept. 18, because he said as an ordinance, there needed to be at least 10 days between the first and second public hearings. To hold the meeting later next week would be a problem with the Jewish New Year, The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, scheduled to take place on Sept. 20 thru Sept. 22. The second public hearing would then take place on Thursday, Sept. 28.
The Council has to set the millage rate at that first public hearing, as well as putting Buckhorn’s proposed $974 million budget on first reading.
Territo said that if the council did not pass the budget before the end of September, there would be “payroll issues” as well as bond payments due on Oct. 1. There are also financial issues dealing with the impact of the hurricane.
Territo also suggested that the council could hold a budget workshop after the first public hearing next Monday.
While Buckhorn has suggested raising the millage nearly a full point (from 5.7326 to 6.6326), his budget director, Sonya Little, has also presented two lower tax proposals after some council members expressed reluctance to the mayor’s first proposal. One proposal would one would cut the tax to .75 mills. The other would lower it to .6.
If the Council were to approve a lower rate, there then would naturally be less money in the budget, and a workshop would allow them to figure out what they cut from Buckhorn’s original proposal.
“We could set that millage rate at whatever that amount is, and then we could have a workshop to determine some of the priorities that budget has to meet, concerning the millage rate for the first hearing, and then set the millage rate finally on that last date,” said Councilman Mike Suarez.
Councilman Charlie Miranda advised that the council need not push the budget proceedings into October. “A slowdown should not be considered,” he said.
There were members of the public who attended the brief meeting, though none opted to speak to the council.
“This has been a very acute, traumatic time for everybody,” said Councilman Luis Viera, looking out at the audience. “We’re here because it’s our jobs, but y’all are here because you care about this city and your future.”