The Tampa City Council is scheduled to vote on raising property taxes for the first time in almost three decades next week, but the size of that tax remains unknown less than a month before next year’s budget goes into effect.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn informed the Council in July that because of a confluence of events, the millage would need to be raised in the coming year nearly a full point, from 5.7326 to 6.6326. The increase would cost owners with property valued at $200,000 about $180 more each year, raising taxes on that property from $1,147 a year to $1,327.
City Budget Director Sonya Little presented two other scenarios to the Council at a special meeting held Tuesday evening — one would cut the tax to .75 mills. The other would lower it to .6. Both scenarios would include using $5.2 million in BP money still left over from the city’s $20 million settlement with the oil giant following the massive 2010 oil spill that affected tourism in Tampa.
Part of the mayor’s proposed fiscal year 2018 budget includes hiring 79 more employees over the course of the next year, 48 for the Fire Department. Councilman Harry Cohen said that he would like Department heads to provide details about those new hires.
“I think the police and fire positions speak for themselves, but I think in terms of the other positions that are being asked for, some additional explanation about why would at least give me some comfort and/or concern, depending on what that information might reveal,” Cohen said.
The Parks Dept. is asking for 20 more positions and Contract Administration is programmed for 10 positions, “largely due to the tremendous amount of construction going on within the city in getting contracts, permits and so forth approved, we need additional bodies,” Little said.
Members of the Buckhorn administration have seriously scrubbed the numbers, Little said, adding that there have been more than 700 positions in city government that have remained unfilled over the past decade thanks to the Great Recession.
City Councilman Guido Maniscalco said that before Little’s presentation, he was set to vote against any tax increase, but realized such an attitude was “selfish.”
“You don’t want to be that guy that raises taxes,” he admitted. “We’re in a corner. We have bills that are due from years ago, and we have no real other way out,” he said, referring to the expected passage in 2018 of an expansion of the homestead exemption, which Buckhorn has said could cost the city $6 annually.
Other obligations include $24 million that was spent 20 years ago on public safety under former Mayor Dick Greco, which the city will begin paying $13 million a year on that debt. Another $6 million was deferred from contributions to construction on Centro Ybor.
Council Chair Yolie Capin once again put it on the record that she was in support of raising the millage years ago. “I felt that we needed the funds and we needed them then,” she said.
The council will have to budget hearings on the fiscal year 2018 budget before October 1. The first such hearing is set for Wednesday, September 13 at 5 p.m. The Council must set the millage rate at that meeting.