TAMPA — For the first time in five years, the city of Tampa will balance its budget without drawing cash from reserves, Mayor Bob Buckhorn said Thursday.
Not only that, but Buckhorn's proposed $876 million budget for the 2015 fiscal year will start to replenish the rainy day funds that helped carry the city through the lean years after the housing crash.
"There is a good story to tell this year as we come out of the wreckage of what has been one of the most devastating recessions since the Great Depression," said Buckhorn, who plans to run for re-election in March.
The city plans to put $1.3 million back into reserves — a "modest contribution," Buckhorn said — putting the fund at $94.8 million. That equals about 25 percent of the city's general spending and is above the 20 percent cushion demanded by municipal bond rating agencies.
Tampa property owners would be looking at a 5.2 percent city tax increase under Buckhorn's proposed budget.
Consequently, the owner of a home assessed at $138,000, the average assessment in the city, with standard exemptions would pay a city tax bill of about $504. That doesn't include taxes levied by Hillsborough County, the School Board or other authorities.
Buckhorn also proposes a 2.5 percent raise for all city employees. The Tampa Police Department would receive $1.3 million to hire 30 new officers in advance of a wave of retirements. The city's total number of authorized employees would increase by one to 4,414 full-time positions.
The proposed budget also includes $35.5 million in additional infrastructure spending, including:
• The initial funds for a multi-year, $16.6 million renovation of Old City Hall's exterior, plumbing, electrical and heating and air conditioning systems. The building turns 100 next year.
• Funds for dog park upgrades in Hyde Park and New Tampa and to start major projects at the Greco Sports Complex ($1.5 million), Perry Harvey Sr. Park ($2 million in addition to $4.3 million already budgeted) and Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park ($2.3 million toward a total of $9.3 million in redevelopment).
• $4 million more for road resurfacing, enough for 63 lane-miles, or 21 more than this year.
• $5.6 million more for drainage, ponds, ditches and other projects designed to handle stormwater throughout the city.
"Stormwater has always been a problem," Buckhorn told the City Council. Not only that, but heavy rains over the past year have made potholes worse. "We can't fix it all, but we have deferred long enough some of the things we need to do."
In east Tampa, the city plans to begin work on a multiyear project to improve drainage in an area bounded by Hillsborough Avenue, Adamo Drive, 40th Street and 50th Street. Another regional drainage improvement project is budgeted for a 1,000-acre area of South Tampa that includes the intersection of Dale Mabry Highway and Henderson Boulevard.
Three more projects would address problems with stagnant, standing water on Kensington, Marjory and Edison avenues in South Tampa.
"When there is a storm, water simply does not drain away," said council member Harry Cohen, who represents the area. "Those neighborhoods have waited a long time for relief."
Buckhorn also proposes to spend $300,000 in 2015 to design repairs to the historic pool at Cuscaden Park in the V.M Ybor neighborhood. In 2016, he plans to include another $1.5 million for construction in the budget.
That would allow work on the pool, closed since 2009, to begin in the fall of 2015 with construction expected to take eight to 10 months.
"Amen," council member and sometime-Buckhorn-antagonist Frank Reddick said as the mayor described the plan.
Earlier this year, Buckhorn's aides worried that the city might have to cover a revenue shortfall as high as $15 million. Instead, it was $6.3 million.
Fortunately, the city's pension funds have performed well, which is expected to save the city $4.3 million in contributions to those funds next year. City departments cut spending by $1 million. And next year Tampa's downtown redevelopment district is scheduled to repay $1 million on a loan to the general fund.
Then there are property taxes, on the rise again.
The city will benefit from a 7.2 percent increase in taxable property values over the last year, according to the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser's Office. That growth has been fueled, in large part, by nearly $439 million in construction.
Property taxes constitute the city's biggest single source of revenue and are a key part of general spending for departments like police, fire rescue, code enforcement and parks and recreation.
The real estate crash caused property tax revenues to fall from $166.2 million in 2007 to a low of $115.7 million in 2013. But that trend reversed itself this year and in 2015 the city expects to collect $132.2 million.
For the eighth year, the city's property tax rate would remain at about $5.73 in city taxes for every $1,000 of assessed taxable property value. Because the same rate generates more taxes from properties with rising values, state law will require the city to advertise a property tax increase of about 5.2 percent.