Tampa activists call for city to divert 2022 budget funds from police to other community needs

Castor will present the proposed budget to city council at an Aug. 5 city council meeting.

click to enlarge Tampa Mayor Jane Castor speaks at housing affordability announcement on February 2, 2020.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor speaks at housing affordability announcement on February 2, 2020.

On Thursday morning, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor will present the budget for the 2022 fiscal year to city council.

Ahead of the budget presentation, activist groups have called on the mayor and city council to invest in urgent community needs.

Restorative Justice Coalition, The People’s Safety Coalition, Sustainable Souls of Tampa Bay, and Food and Water Watch collectively sent a letter to all city council members and the mayor, calling for changes toward a “people’s budget.” 

“As independent activists, we have spent hours upon hours of unpaid labor to provide the City Council with solutions that have been proven to work in various cities, as well as suggestions for the creation of brand new solutions,” reads the document shared with Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. “Hundreds upon hundreds of Tampans of all ages, races, religions, genders, and backgrounds spoke out at the city budget hearings last September and echoed our demand: defund the police and refund the community.”

The letter comes a year after activists say Castor and council ignored similar pleading by approving a 2021 budget which included a $13 million increase to the Tampa Police Department. This was the largest police budget increase in any major U.S. city, and arrived in the midst of the George Floyd uprising against police violence and over policing. 

The activist groups believe that city funds for the upcoming year could be directed toward better use, and broke their funding demands into five detailed categories:

  • Accessible Housing for All Using money toward a Housing First model will alleviate poverty and ensure everyone in Tampa has access to a safe home. This will automatically reduce crime. 
  • Alternative Non Co-Response Crisis Responder (like CAHOOTS) We do not desire to create “partnerships” with Mayor Castor’s friends at GracePoint (Castor has served on the Board of Directors at GracePoint). We want a system like CAHOOTS where de-escalators respond 98% of the time with no involvement from police. 
  • Jobs Guarantee Program Unemployment causes poverty and poverty causes desperation and crime. We need bold solutions that will help all people have economic opportunities in our city. Creating a robust jobs program for Black, Indigenous, disabled, trans, gay, queer, and/or immigrants will improve our economy and reduce the need for an overused militia to respond to every problem. 
  • Universal Child Care Program The city should invest in a voucher program and make it accessible to poor and middle class families. The city could partner with locally owned child care centers to create a voucher program that will allow Tampans to choose a child care provider near them with a voucher. This will alleviate poverty and keep children safe while parents and guardians seek opportunities in the employment sector. By partnering with local centers, this will also improve small business opportunities. 
  • Invest in Black and Indigenous Businesses The city could prioritize small businesses owned by Black and Indigenous residents. This will allow communities to thrive and help them recover from the pandemic’s impact.”

Tampa officials have been elusive about details of the upcoming budget, according to Tampa Bay Times. Meanwhile in St. Petersburg, the city holds multiple public budget workshops for transparency.

The Times also identified some conflict of messaging in regards to the upcoming budget.

In July, Tampa City Council Chairman Orlando Gudes told the newspaper that he thought there might be savings in the TPD budget of up to $7 million that could be funneled to affordable housing needs, including increasing the city’s housing outreach efforts.

But Mayor Castor told a different story.

“That was news to everyone,” Castor told The Times when asked about Gudes’ comments. “No. Not in that particular budget.” 

CL twice emailed Tampa’s communication director for input on the upcoming budget, and thoughts on whether any existing city programs or Castor’s “Resilient Tampa” roadmap would specifically address the concerns of the activist group. CL also reached out to multiple city council members for comment, but did not receive a response.

The Resilient Tampa roadmap sets equity goals for Tampa, some based on similar concerns that the activists have, but some of the language is vague in the roadmap and many of the goals are set for years down the road. Activists want money from next year’s budget to immediately go towards the demands in their letter. 

Included in the activists’ 18-page people’s budget document is the People’s Safety Coalition online survey responses from the summer of 2020, which gauged people’s wants and needs from the City of Tampa. 

The survey received 369 responses. 347 (94% of all respondents) supported defunding the police and opposed increasing the police budget. 104 Black respondents were recorded (28% of respondents). Of those, 98 supported defunding the police and opposed increasing the police budget. 7 respondents were Indigenous and 100% of the Indigenous respondents supported defunding the police and opposed increasing the police budget. 

Included in the “people’s budget” document are detailed responses from Tampa residents who took the survey. 

In the written responses, people called for food security, more social services in Tampa and an economy focused on helping the poor and middle class. 

Overwhelmingly, the written responses call for less police presence in Tampa. 

The activist groups are calling on Tampa residents to contact the city council and the mayor, in order to voice their needs from next fiscal year’s budget. 

Tampa City Council will consider Castor’s budget on Thursday, Aug. 5. The meeting can be seen on YouTube.

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Justin Garcia

Justin Garcia has written for The Nation, Investigative Reporters & Editors Journal, the USA Today Network and various other news outlets. When he's not writing, Justin likes to make music, read, play basketball and spend time with loved ones. 

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