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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

A tale of two mayors: Iorio and Greco talk city finances

13

December

TAMPA – Former mayor Dick Greco dropped in on current Mayor Pam Iorio recently to make a courtesy call, to thank her for “all she’s done” and to talk about city finances in light of his recently launched campaign to regain the office.

Here’s one thing he learned: If Greco wins and succeeds Iorio, he will inherit a lot more in the way of general city reserves than he left her in 2003 when he wrapped up his last term as mayor.

When Iorio came into office, the city’s general fund and utility tax fund had a total of about $50.8 million in reserves. That was equivalent to about 15 percent of the city’s expenditures of $338.8 million.

The picture now is much different. Iorio projects that the city will have general reserves of nearly $105.5 million for the 2010-11 fiscal year. That would be about 25 percent of the city’s projected $421.9 million in expenditures.

“There will be a good cushion for the city,” Iorio said.

After meeting with Iorio for about 45 minutes Thursday afternoon, Greco said he was grateful for her stewardship.

 “She’s leaving the city in as good a shape as she possibly can under the circumstances that we’ve been through that nobody could have anticipated,” Greco said. “We both feel that we’re going to have to be extremely careful the next several years.”

Iorio has been frugal, conservative and has "accumulated some dollars,” Greco said. “I think that is what it’s going to continue to take.”

It was 2004 and early in Iorio’s tenure that Hurricane Charley veered off its collision course with the Tampa Bay area and slammed into Charlotte County. As officials in Charlotte scrambled to respond, she saw how quickly a city could burn through its savings.

“That’s when I realized that our city was too vulnerable with lower reserves,” she said.

So she set out to hoard cash, telling her departments to underspend their budgets, despite an economic crash that forced the city to cut expenses and positions.

Having robust reserves not only gives the city rainy-day money for emergencies, city officials say, but also impresses bonding agencies. That, in turn, means that the city gets lower interest rates and saves money when it goes to the bond market to borrow money.

“Most local governments, they’re lucky to get to 20 percent of the general fund (in reserves);  some only have 10 percent of their general fund,” Iorio said.

Greco was the first of the mayor’s candidates to ask for an appointment with Iorio to discuss city finances, but she said all are welcome.

Still, Greco isn’t the only candidate who has been to school on the issue. As chairman of the City Council, Thomas Scott has contact with city staff on budget matters all the time. Former City Council member Bob Buckhorn and former County Commissioner Ed Turanchik also have come in for tutorials on the subject with city chief financial officer Bonnie Wise.

Like Greco, Buckhorn praised Iorio’s work managing the recession.

“The city that I will inherit is lean (and) it’s focused, and the key for me,” Buckhorn said – and, yes, candidates commonly talk like their winning is a forgone conclusion – “will be to keep it lean, keep it small, don’t allow government to do what they normally do, which is binge and purge during the boom times, because we’re going to come out of this eventually.”
 

[Last modified: Monday, December 13, 2010 3:33pm]

    

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