Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said Monday that he's still considering supporting the return of a ferry linking Tampa and St. Petersburg, but hasn't made a final decision on whether to commit $150,000 toward the cost during a tight budget year.
"We're open to it. The price is a lot lower than the last time," Buckhorn said, referencing the $350,000 subsidy that the city, along with St. Petersburg and Pinellas and Hillsborough counties contributed for the ferry's initial 2016-2017 trial run.
St. Petersburg and Hillsborough County have already committed to funding the ferry for the coming November-April season, but Buckhorn said he hasn't made up his mind yet.
A decision is unlikely before he presents the city's nearly $1 billion budget to City Council on July 19. That budget is still being finalized as officials find ways to pare a $5 million deficit.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, who has led the effort among elected officials to establish the ferry, called Buckhorn a few weeks ago to urge Tampa's support.
Buckhorn said he thought the city would be ready to make a final call within "the next couple of weeks."
If he decides to move forward, he'll present the idea to City Council members meeting as the Downtown Community Redevelopment Area.
The Pinellas County Commission will also need to decide if it will contribute. The item was deferred at its June 14 meeting. A representative from St. Petersburg will be at the July 17 meeting to request funding, said county spokesman Tony Fabrizio.
Kriseman remains optimistic that the ferry will return, said spokesman Ben Kirby.
"Mayor Kriseman is confident the ferry will proceed, especially given Tampa City Council's enthusiasm," Kirby wrote in an email.
Kriseman addressed the Hillsborough County commissioners last month saying the ferry would not have early-morning service from St. Petersburg that was targeted at commuters.
The 50-minute ride would be subsidized in part by a state Department of Transportation grant that would pick up the balance of the estimated $747,000 cost.
The service, which sold 37,000 tickets, was mostly used for recreation and weekend traffic was far heavier.
Kriseman hasn't set a date to address Tampa City Council members, but will plans to make a similar pitch.
"What's in it for Tampa? The same thing that's in it for the people of St. Pete and Pinellas: the ferry is a regional transportation asset on both sides of the bay," Kirby wrote.
Editor's Note: This post was updated to reflect additional information provided by Pinellas County received after the original posting.