TAMPA— After getting a glimpse at Hillsborough County's proposed budget for the next fiscal year, dozens of community members Thursday asked officials to save key jobs and restore funding for arts programs.
The proposed $3.54 billion budget represents a $57 million increase from last year, expanding long-term transportation and water or wastewater projects.
But it seeks to offset a loss of $65 million in property tax revenue partly by reducing expenses by $17 million and drawing $18 million from reserves.
The countywide property tax rate will remain almost the same, $10.76 for every $1,000 of assessed taxable value.
Nearly 300 positions — including the planning and growth management ombudsman, which provides residents with information about permits and review procedures — will be eliminated.
At a public meeting Thursday, dozens of members of the Hispanic community implored county commissioners— in English and Spanish— to save the position held by Maricela Medrano.
Many noted that Medrano, who is bilingual, had helped navigate complex codes and procedures, allowing them to keep homes or to start businesses.
Others asked officials to restore funding to the Arts Council of Hillsborough County.
The council allotted more than $300,000 to 25 arts and cultural organizations, including Community Stepping Stones, an art school in Tampa's Sulphur Springs neighborhood.
Yvenel Casseide, 18, told commissioners how the school helped him discover painting and ceramics and began thinking of attending Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota.
"I didn't think of college (earlier). My grades were terrible, quite terrible," said the senior at Blake High School.
County Commissioner Mark Sharpe said that while listening to public sentiment was useful, the board will have to make some unpopular decisions.
"It's always enlightening, but we're in a difficult crossroads," Sharpe said. "Government just can't continue doing what it used to do."
He said even if the ombudsman position is eliminated, the board might find a new use for Medrano's expertise and bilingual skills.
A public hearing on the proposed budget is Sept. 15.
Nandini Jayakrishna can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or firstname.lastname@example.org.