Tampa to dip $8.7 million in reserves to balance city's budget

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The Mayor spoke for over 40 minutes in presenting his FY2013 budget to the City Council, "Changing Tampa's DNA," one of his signatures statements he has carried over from his 2011 campaign. He presented an overview of many of the actions that his administration is undertaking, beginning by saying that it's been a "very, very good year," and that despite declining revenues "we have gotten a lot of things done."

Property taxes in Tampa dropped for the sixth consecutive year, meaning obviously there's less revenue for the city to take in. Since taking in $166.2 million in property taxes in 2007, declining revenues have been the case every year, with this year that number dropping to $115.2 million this year. "That's a big whack. That is a devastating reduction in revenues to the city," Buckhorn said.

The property tax rate will not be changed (and in fact hasn't been since 1988). For a single family home that is assessed at $157,000, their tax hit would be $613, no different than what Tampa homeowners are paying currently.

Among the top things that he's proud of is a new way to make the regulatory permit process more user friendly, a key campaign promise. He discussed his West Bank project that the Urban Land Institute is assisting with that could result in the razing of the North Boulevard Homes public housing project in West Tampa.

There's the RiverWalk, where he excitedly discussed how this decades long project will come to fruition under his administration thanks to an $11 million federal grant from the Obama administration. The project is one that many of Buckhorn's predecessors have been involved with.

As always, he gave gave great credit to the city's police department, reporting that crime has gone down an additional 7 percent in the last year, and overall has dropped nearly 65 percent in the last decade.

The Mayor shared graphs that shows that public safety (police and fire) comprise 62 percent of the city's budget $804.4 million budget.

One of the biggest drags on the city's budget continues to be the debt the city continues to have to pay on its parking garages, which cost Tampa a $6 million year. Instead of taking it out of the general fund, however, he has opted to put that on the city's credit card.

How the city found itself in such a dire situation with parking garages goes back to the Sandy Freedman and Dick Greco administrations. "That is a long term challenge that I think we're going to resolve. It's not going to be painless. But we don't have a choice."

Buckhorn said there's "no point in casting stones," insisting that the city will ultimately correct the problem. Among those problems include a cap on fees in the Centro Ybor garage that allow motorists to park for just $1 for the first three hours of parking, as a well as a deal that allows Hillsborough Community College to use most of the spaces in the garage on Palm Avenue in Ybor City for free.

And of course, Buckhorn referred to the work he and his staff are putting in to have the city ready to host the Republican National Convention later this month. "This has been a lift for us as a city, unlike anything that we have ever done." He promised to put on "one heckuva show."

"Will there be incidents?" he asked. "Absolutely there will," adding that the city has"trained harder for this than anything we've ever done. And I think we are ready. And it is game time. And all of us, particularly Chief (Jane) Castor, are ready to play."

There will be two public hearings to discuss the budget at City Council, taking place September 13 and September 27.

  • Bob Buckhorn

Although Bob Buckhorn has been Mayor of Tampa for 16 months now, there's still a gratitude of debt he owes his predecessor, Pam Iorio.

That's because as Buckhorn worked with city staff over the past few months to overcome a $27 million deficit, he had the ability to do so without raising taxes or laying off personnel, despite the fact that the numbers were still coming up over $8 million short.

But because of a deep set of reserves built up during Iorio's two-terms in office, he announced today that he was taking $8.7 million of those reserves to balance the budget. That comes on top of the $6 million the mayor dipped into reserves last year to overcome a $34 million deficit.

"That is not the preferred option, but in this case it's the only option," he told the City Council.

Even with over $14 million drained from reserves the past two years, the city still maintains a fund balance of 27 percent for total expenditures, which city budget director Sonya Little said was "very positive" compared to other cities and counties that she has monitored. Little says not many of those municipalities have fund balances in excess of 20 percent.

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