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Amid budget shortfall, Tampa City Council discusses raising parking and trash rates

TAMPA — Facing a $28 million shortfall, Tampa City Council is targeting parking and solid waste fees in the upcoming budget year.

At a workshop Thursday, council members asked for detailed reports about parking and solid waste expenses. Both services, dogged by debt and insufficient revenue, stand to lose several million dollars next year.

"Every single parking metric has gone down," council member Mary Mulhern said while examining budget details.

The budget presentation showed fewer citations issued as fewer drivers park in city spaces. Both have led to lower revenue.

Council members mentioned the possibility of raising rates for parking and garbage collection to help close the budget gap. They seemed hesitant to consider selling parking garages or lots, citing low real estate values and competition from private lot operators.

"If there was an easy answer," said council member Harry Cohen, "someone would have come up with it by now."

The City Council will continue to discuss finances in the coming months, with many options still open for balancing the budget's nearly $400 million general fund, before the new fiscal year starts this fall.

The $28 million shortfall, which comes partly from declining property tax revenue, could simply be erased with money from reserves, said Sonya Little, the city's chief financial officer.

But she also outlined three other possible approaches to the budget that involve job cuts or spending reductions.

The first scenario would maintain departmental funding at current levels while eliminating 50 jobs, most of which are vacant.

The two other possibilities involve across-the-board cuts of 10 percent and 15 percent. If every department took a 15 percent budget reduction, city officials would have to consider eliminating more than 700 positions, according to Little.

Meanwhile, the City Council plans to meet with department heads to talk about ways to trim costs without sacrificing services.

Council member Lisa Montelione urged creative thinking about ways to generate more revenue. Among the moneymaking ideas tossed around: pursuing overdue fines more aggressively, selling recycled cardboard, making city buildings more energy efficient and picking up trash once a week instead of twice.

The next budget workshop is scheduled for July 21. Public hearings on the budget begin in September.

Reach Stephanie Wang at swang@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2443.

Amid budget shortfall, Tampa City Council discusses raising parking and trash rates 06/09/11 [Last modified: Thursday, June 9, 2011 10:49pm]
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