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Bob Buckhorn makes the pitch for a stormwater tax while presenting budget to City Council

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Although Bob Buckhorn has been known to quote Alicia Keys in saying that his city of Tampa is “on fire” when it comes to its economic development and overall dynamism, the Mayor was noticeably more sober in assessing the city’s economic future on Thursday.

Buckhorn spent more than 75 minutes in front of the Tampa City Council to in presenting his fiscal year $904.9 million 2017 budget. He spent an exhaustive 40 minutes to elaborate all that is going on with the city in terms of programs, projects and developments. The second half got down to the numbers.

By any stretch, Tampa is doing well, as it slowly gets out under the Great Recession which forced his predecessor, Pam Iorio, to layoff hundreds of employees. In fact, the number of employees has remained constant in his 5.5 years since getting elected.

But it’s taking a long time to get back to the boom of the late aughts, and the mayor said that “we will be lucky in this economy in the budget process that we’ve been together, not to be in a deficit position. We are not out of the woods yet.”

Even though downtown is booming with economic development (think of Jeff Vinik’s $2 billion plan for Channelside which soon begins construction), the increase in those tax dollars stays in those areas, due to them being Community Redevelopment Agencies, where the tax revenues are used for improvements – not into the general revenue budget. The mayor said that the state’s Save Our Homes constitutional amendment (which caps property taxes at 3 percent annually).

“We probably will be five years before we get back to where we were in 2007, because of our inability to recapture that appreciation,” he said. “It makes it very, very difficult for cities and counties and schools who rely on property tax revenue to fund the bulk of their activities.”

Buckhorn’s budget also calls for $250 million in spending on stormwater projects. Last November, the Council narrowly rejected a similar $251 million tax proposal that would have paid for major drainage improvements that city officials said were crucial to mitigate flooding, which happens far too often in Tampa. Critics said the tax was unfair, as people who live in certain area of Tampa that don’t get much flooding would have to pay for the areas that do.

“We need that vote,” he said in his most direct pitch of the presentation. “We need you guys to do the right thing.” Buckhorn acknowledged that it wasn’t an inexpensive proposal, but said it’s impact was constantly felt.

“It’s going to be a courageous vote. I understand the pushback,” he added, but said that city officials could only use “duct tape” and patch the existing stormwater system without new funds.

“Think about the longterm impact of this,” he implored. “I am confident that you will do the right thing.”

In the first part of his presentation, the mayor went over some of the highlights of city life, including the opening of Perry Harvey Sr. Park, the Riverwalk, the Brian Grazer Jewish Community Center in West Tampa (scheduled to open in December), the Cal Ripken Jr. Youth Field, and the construction of Cuscaden Park pool in the V.M. Ybor section of town.

The budget includes 175.3 in capital improvements.  In FY 2017, the City of Tampa will also invest $ 69.5 million in our neighborhoods, although $35 million is going to one place – Julian B. Riverfront Park, with $15 million of that coming from funds received from BP because of lost tourism revenues after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Once again the city is maintaining its millage rate, which hasn’t increased since the late 1980’s.

Following the Mayor’s presentation, City Councilman Charlie Miranda enquired about Buckhorn’s future, and would he be around to see all the projects reach fruition by the time his term is scheduled to end in 2019. The mayor had been strongly considering a run for governor in 2018, but speculation has now centered on his possibly getting a job offer in a Hillary Clinton administration.

Buckhorn didn’t directly answer, but he did say that whatever he did, it would be “huuuuuge,” eliciting laughs throughout the chamber.

The City of Tampa will host two public hearings about the budget, on Wednesday September 7th at 5:01pm and Wednesday September 21st at 5:01pm.

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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