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Bob Buckhorn delivers his ‘not sexy’ $850 million budget

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn appeared before the City Council on Thursday for nearly an hour to deliver his $850.2 million FY2016 budget, a budget he admitted is “not sexy.”
“This budget is not going to include a lot of glamour, but it gets the job done,” he said, emphasizing the much-needed investments in basic infrastructure, such as a large increase in stormwater improvements.
As every resident or visitor to Tampa realizes, one large rainstorm can paralyze traffic throughout the city, as it doesn’t take very long for streets in South Tampa and other parts of the city to flood quickly. For the next year, the city intends to invest $18.3 million for major stormwater investments including the Lower Peninsula Watershed, 43rd Street Regional Outfall, Peninsula Regional Drainage, and the North Tampa Closed Basins.
Buckhorn said that dependent upon City Council approval, the city will invest a total of $250 million over five years to reduce flooding and improve water quality.
That’s not a given, however, though the Council members have indicated that they think the stormwater fee should be increased. It could move dramatically, however, going from $36 a year for the owner of a medium-sized home to as much as $180 per year.

The mayor talked about how impressively the city has done rising out of the recessionary  years that began in his predecessor Pam Iorio’s reign and carried over to his first few years. One concrete example of how much better the city’s finances are is that instead of borrowing liberally from the city’s reserves to balance the budget, Buckhorn said he’s able to restore a million dollars to it this year.

The city has seen an increase in homicides this year, and the mayor talked about a number of summer programs for young people. He said there have been 6,300 teenagers involved in summer camps already in 2015. “Those are 6,300 young people who are not out on the corner, possibly making bad decisions and being in harm’s way.”

The mayor boasted of investments in public spaces, referring to the groundbreaking ceremonies that took place earlier this week for Perry Harvey Park, a decade in the making that is designed to pay homage to the history of the black community in a “substantive and symbolic way,” he said.
Other investments include the construction of Cuscaden Pool in the VM Ybor area, the construction of Julian B. Lane Riverfont Park in West Tampa, and improvements for neighborhood parks including Forest Hills Park in North Tampa, Friendship Park in Westshore area, and Ragan Park in East Tampa
During the recent elections for City Council earlier this year, one of the biggest complaints uttered by citizens in the community was the mayor’s seeming infatuation with downtown, with so much emphasis on Jeff Vinik’s planned redevelopment project for Channelside. He said construction on the University of South Florida medical school that will be built on one acre on the site should begin within the next six months.
Buckhorn defended that emphasis today, though, saying that the only way the city could quickly get back to the revenues it was getting during the pre-recession years of 2007 would be from the property taxes generated from commercial properties, office buildings and hotels, and not from single-family residences, where the property taxes for homestead properties are limited to only 3 percent increases.  “Our focus on downtown is strategic,” he said. “Our ability to get out of that ditch using single-family homes is not going to occur.”
To illustrate how much local government has been reduced since the Great Recession, Buckhorn said that there are 728 fewer city employees now than there were in 2008, and the mayor said he was going to maintain that emphasis on a smaller government. He also explained how much he micromanages personnel decisions.
“I approve every hire that this city makes,” he said, and said he approves or disapproves largely every travel request made by city employees.
In terms of expenditures, as per usual, public safety dominates, with 65 percent of those funds going to the city’s police and fire departments. Looking over at new Police Chief Eric Ward and Fire Chief Tom Forward, Buckhorn said, “See these men over here smiling? That’s their money.”
Buckhorn said he didn’t make any apologies for so much money going to public safety. “We are a safer city because of it.”
There will be two public hearings on the budget taking place, on Thursday, September 3, and Tuesday, September 15, both at 5 p.m. at City Hall.

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

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