Tuesday, September 18, 2018
News Roundup

Bob Buckhorn offers options to trim proposed Tampa property tax rate increase

TAMPA — With City Council members balking at his first request, Mayor Bob Buckhorn's staff Tuesday outlined two options to trim his proposed property tax increase for 2018.

And thanks to the city's remaining money from a settlement with BP, neither would require cuts in proposed spending.

Buckhorn proposed a $974.2 million budget last month that would increase the city's property tax rate from $5.73 to $6.63 in city taxes for every $1,000 of taxable property value.

For a homeowner who lives in a house assessed at $166,579, Tampa's average, that would increase what they paid the city this year by $140.

Tuesday, officials offered two alternatives:

• Cut Buckhorn's increase by one-sixth, to $6.48 in tax per $1,000 of assessed value. That would mean a property tax increase of $123 next year for the average home.

• Cut Buckhorn's increase by one-third, to $6.33 in tax per $1,000 of assessed value. That would equal a property tax increase of $105 next year for the average home.

Both options include using $5.2 million left from the city's $20 million settlement of its lawsuit with BP over tourism lost after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The rest is going to the redevelopment of Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park.

Both reductions would affect how much money the city could carry forward to 2019 and 2020, and both would be expected to make those years harder.

The council made no decisions but is scheduled to set the city's tax rate at a public hearing at 5 p.m. Sept. 13.

But a couple of council members said they wanted more information about $16.6 million in proposed increases to general spending. Of those, $3.9 million would go to Tampa Fire Rescue and $1.46 million to police.

Council member Mike Suarez asked whether the city had considered going ahead with the increases for police and fire, but not for any other department. Harry Cohen wanted details on what justifies any new, non-public safety position.

"We need exactly what is being proposed and why it's needed," he said.

Council member Guido Maniscalco said he had wanted to vote against the tax increase because "you don't want to be that guy who raises taxes." But he suggested he's come around to the idea that something has to be done "to keep the city moving forward."

"We're in a corner," he said. "We have bills coming due."

Despite a healthy 9.3 percent increase in the taxable value of property citywide, Tampa officials expect to be squeezed in the next several years.

Starting in 2018, the city must repay some debt that had been postponed since the mid 1990s. First up will be a $6 million one-time payment on a federal loan taken out to build the Centro Ybor shopping and entertainment complex.

Then, in 2019, the city will begin repaying police and fire bonds on which no interest or principal has been paid for two decades. That will mean several years of payments of $13.6 million annually.

Meanwhile, costs for health insurance and pensions are rising while revenue from a communications services tax drops as more people get rid of their home telephones.

Finally, the Legislature has scheduled a referendum in 2018 on expanding the homestead exemption. City officials expect that starting in 2020, that would cost the city $6 million a year in reduced property tax revenue.

"To get to where we're going, it's going to take more than one or two ideas," council member Charlie Miranda said. "It's going to take a combination of many ideas. … This is the perfect storm — not Irma — but what we have here."

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