Buckhorn presents budget to Tampa City Council

TAMPA — Making his first formal budget address to the Tampa City Council, Mayor Bob Buckhorn unveiled a plan Thursday that cuts city spending from the previous year but doesn't require layoffs or major service-level changes.

Buckhorn is proposing a $765.4 million budget, which is a $34.7 million decrease from the previous year.

The property tax rate would remain unchanged: $5.73 for every $1,000 of taxable value. Taking standard exemptions under consideration, the average homeowner would pay $613, Buckhorn said.

Buckhorn described his presentation as "more ceremonial than substance," saying most of the details had been disclosed to the council last week. The mayor said he wanted to give the council extra time to analyze the budget.

The City Council must sign off on a balanced budget before the fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

Buckhorn, who faced a $34.5 million deficit when he took office April 1, identified millions of dollars in cuts. He proposes eliminating 21 vacant jobs, increasing the Tampa Electric franchise fee and using $6 million in reserves.

He also asked every department to cut spending.

"That budget is bleeding we scrubbed it so hard," he said.

However, the budget includes pay raises for police, fire and other city employees.

Buckhorn touted a recent decision by Standard and Poor's to boost the city's credit rating as proof that the city is on solid financial footing even as the economy lags.

Though the council responded positively to Buckhorn's budget address, one point of contention arose.

Councilman Frank Reddick said he would not sign off on the budget unless it was amended to include money to repair or replace Williams Park Pool. By then Buckhorn had left the room, but Reddick said he wanted to make sure the message was passed along.

"You need to go tell the mayor or somebody to put $1.5 million or $2 million in there," said Reddick, whose district includes the pool.

"They might have to worry about more than one vote," Mary Mulhern chimed in.

Buckhorn said Thursday afternoon that he wasn't going to put funding for the pool in his budget.

During his address, the mayor said he would begin planning for the 2012-2013 fiscal year as soon as the council signs off on a 2011-2012 plan. He has a list of items he wants to address in the upcoming year, including more partnerships with other county municipalities and a review of the city's purchasing procedures.

Buckhorn also wants to review commercial and residential rates for trash pickup and disposal, saying some pricing structures could be altered.

He also pointed out lingering issues with parking lots and garages.

Instead of operating as a self-sufficient enterprise fund, parking requires general fund dollars to balance the books, Buckhorn said. It doesn't make sense to sell the property because most of the assets are almost paid off, he said, but many of the parking rates are too low.

In other action:

The council voted to postpone deliberations on panhandling until Sept. 8; they had previously scheduled an Aug. 4 discussion.

In June, the council directed city attorneys to draft two proposals: One that would eliminate panhandling six days a week and another that would ban most panhandling while exempting newspaper sales.

Councilman Harry Cohen asked on Thursday for a third proposal that merged the previous two.

During the Sept. 8 meeting, the council would hear a task force report on homelessness and alternatives to jailing people found in violation of the new panhandling law.

Then council members would decide which of the three proposals to pursue.

Buckhorn presents budget to Tampa City Council 07/28/11 [Last modified: Friday, July 29, 2011 1:11am]

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