New poll says Tampa residents want city to deal with homeless — not build a stadium — with tax money

Residents came out 56-36 against a taxpayer-funded stadium.

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Although money from the Downtown Tampa Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) has been prominently discussed as a potential source of revenue that could help construct a new baseball stadium in Tampa, the majority of the public says tax dollars should go toward solving the homeless problem instead of building a new baseball stadium.

That's according to a survey released Sunday by St.Pete Polls, which also asked 584 Tampa residents to weigh in on other local issues of note, such as code enforcement and what to do about the "Bro Bowl." The polls also shows that 2.5 years into his first term in office, Mayor Bob Buckhorn has little to worry about when it comes to his re-election, unless Pam Iorio opts to run again (more on that below).

But it's the response to the question about what to do with funds for downtown redevelopment that will be available in a couple of years that stands out.

31 percent of those surveyed said that those funds should go toward the homeless; 26 percent said it should go toward improving transportation. 13 percent it should go toward police and fire. Just 12 percent said it go toward constructing a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays, should the team opt to leave Tropicana Field.

The monies in question come from the CRA, a special taxing district under Tampa City Council control that funds projects to improve downtown. The city takes a share of the property tax revenues generated in the district and spends it in the district. Currently those funds go toward paying off debt at the Tampa Convention Center, but that debt is scheduled to paid back in 2015.

At a recent news conference Mayor Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commission Chair Ken Hagan discussed the idea that those funds could be part of an overall mix to help pay for a new ballpark, estimated to ultimately cost around $550-$600 million.

But just like in Pinellas County, where debate has already begun about what do with the funds that will be available after the bonds paying off the debt on Tropicana Field will be freed up in a few years, there is certainly no consensus in Tampa that those monies should then be directed toward a new park.

The city has been quite active in dealing with the homeless since Buckhorn took over, but only on a punitive level.

Last month the mayor signed two new ordinances into law cracking down on the homeless. The measures make it illegal to panhandle anywhere in downtown and some outlying areas, and restricts where people can sleep and congregate as well. The measure states that if no beds for the homeless are available, a person cannot be arrested for sleeping in a public space. Individuals who refuse shelter and are arrested can do so three times before they are no longer given the option.

In 2011, the City Council passed an ordinance banning panhandling on city streets for six days a week, allowing an exception for those selling newspapers.

The poll does not delve deeper into what the public specifically believes needs to be done, but it should be noted that the current budget proposal Mayor Buckhorn has presented to the Council has no funds earmarked for the homeless.

The Mayor has consistently said that such services are the province of Hillsborough County. Some City Council members have countered that since the county hasn't done much on that front (save for spending $2.1 million last year to construct Villa Seville, a 24-unit affordable housing development located off of Fowler Avenue in the University area of North Tampa), the city should step up to the plate and do more.

The actual question the survey asked: "The city of Tampa will soon have $100 million in taxpayer money that can be spent on downtown redevelopment. How do you think the money should be spent?"

The actual funds available would be around $12-13 million dollars, but if the city might be able to raise around $100 million by issuing out bonds.

By a 56-36 percent margin, Tampa residents in the poll said they did not want to see any taxpayer funds go toward the construction of a new ballpark.

County Commission Chair Ken Hagan has said consistently that there would "never" be another deal like the 1996 Community Investment Tax which paid for the complete construction of Raymond James Stadium for the NFL Buccaneer franchise.

But he has said on several occasions that funds from the CRA might work. Of course, those CRA funds would not be available if a stadium location was outside the downtown taxing district anyway.

Getting back to the questions on the poll regarding Buckhorn: the survey names several local figures such as Rose Ferlita and David Straz to see how they would fare against the mayor when he goes up for re-election in 2015. No one comes close to giving him a competitive race, with one exception.

That would be his predecessor, Pam Iorio, who endorsed Buckhorn weeks before the 2011 general election. In the survey, they are virtually tied. Iorio is at 41.0 percent, Buckhorn at 40.9 percent.

Although rumored to be a gubernatorial candidate when she stepped down from office in 2011, Iorio has given no indication that she is contemplating a run any office in the immediate future.

The latest survey by St.Pete Polls was conducted at the bequest of blogger Peter Schorsch.

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