With less than two weeks before the new fiscal year begins, Tampa’s City Council voted Monday night to advance a budget raising property taxes for the first time in 29 years.
However, the increase would not be as much as originally proposed by Mayor Bob Buckhorn.
The Council opted to support the $974.2 budget plan which raises the millage rate from $5.7326 to $6.3326 per $1,000 of assessed value.
The increase was the lesser of two alternatives that budget director Sonya Little presented to the Council in recent weeks, after some Councilmembers expressed discomfort with Buckhorn’s original request of nearly one full mill.
The final vote was 4-3, with Councilmembers Frank Reddick, Charlie Miranda, Yolie Capin and Charlie Miranda supporting the proposal. Mike Suarez, Harry Cohen and Guido Maniscalco opposed it.
“This is no way to run a city,” a disgusted Suarez said explaining why he opposed a millage increase.
Tampa faces a budget crunch due, in part, to bills coming due for initiatives approved by the City Council 20 years ago under the Dick Greco administration. One is $6 million for a loan that paid for Centro Ybor. The other is for bonds that financed the construction of a police station and paid for new fire fighting equipment. That loan will require an annual payment of $13.6 million beginning in 2019.
There is also the concern that the Legislature will expand the homestead exemption next year. The 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.
Suarez articulated the anger that other Councilmembers have expressed with the mayor, who they believe knew about the budget issues but only recently brought them to the Council’s attention.
“This is wrong,” he said.
Suarez is expected to run for mayor in 2019.
Cohen, another potential 2019 mayoral candidate, said he was angry with Buckhorn after he learned about the huge deficits the city was facing heading into this year’s fiscal budget. He said he would support a tax increase, but less than the lowest level that Little had proposed, more along the lines of .4 or .5 increase.
Maniscalco said he regretted his support for Julian B. Riverfront Park, saying it wasn’t as essential as other services.
Despite the Council’s angst with raising taxes, there was no public opposition to the Council doing that on Monday night. Instead, Council chambers were filled by members of the New Tampa community, who called on the board to stop neglecting their needs and approve the budget because it would include an expansion of a recreation center in New Tampa, as well as building a new fire station.
“We’re not asking for a whole lot,” said New Tampa resident Joe Farrell. He also supported the building of a new fire station in that district, calling it “an imperative for public safety.”
Several Councilmembers expressed surprise that there wasn’t an organized opposition to raising the millage for the first time in 29 years.
Reddick appeared incredulous with some of his colleagues’ stances, chastising them that the shouldn’t be “scared” to explain their decision. “We gotta be firm, we gotta be strong, and you gotta justify your action,” he said.
The second and final public hearing on the budget will take place on Thursday, Sept. 28 at 5 p.m.