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For second year, Tampa faces potential $30 million budget shortfall

TAMPA — Going into his first city budget last year, Mayor Bob Buckhorn faced a $34.5 million revenue shortfall, and this year doesn't look much better.

"It could be as high as 30 million bucks again," the mayor said in a recent interview. "Welcome to my summer. At this point, it's like getting blood out of a rock."

As city departments prepare budget requests for the 2012-13 fiscal year, Buckhorn said he's asking them to consider whether there are any capital improvement projects that can be delayed to save money or how they might absorb cuts of 5 or 10 percent. With few exceptions, jobs that come open remain unfilled.

On Wednesday, in a pep-rally address to the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, Buckhorn said making the city more competitive in the long run is even more important because of the shortfall.

"I can't cut my way out of this ditch, folks," he told a lunchtime crowd of several hundred at the Hyatt Regency Tampa. "I'm facing another $30 million deficit this year, and the only way we're going to get out of this is to grow the economy."

The speech was a prelude to Buckhorn's State of the City address scheduled for Tuesday at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

At many points, it sounded like one of Buckhorn's campaign speeches, which isn't surprising, since he has not changed his central theme since taking office April 1.

Buckhorn said he means to change Tampa's "economic DNA." He has recruited an economic competitiveness committee from the private sector to recommend changes to the city's organization, codes and technology.

Buckhorn also has reorganized city departments related to permitting and development review. He has moved city staff responsible for reviewing permits from different departments — water, stormwater, solid waste and transportation — to the create a "one-stop shop" at the Construction Services Center.

And he has purchased a $2.7 million software system that will allow developers and residents to apply for and track permits around the clock from a computer or smartphone.

The idea is to "change the culture" at City Hall, sending a message that Tampa is open for business.

"The only way you grow the economy is to get people through the permitting process and get them out there moving dirt, throwing up steel, building buildings, adding value to the tax roll and hiring people," he said.

Buckhorn also said it's critical for Tampa to make itself more appealing to young professionals and creative-class workers.

That means having a strong local economy but also policies that are open and welcoming — an allusion to the domestic partner registry that won initial City Council approval last week — and strong partnerships with the University of South Florida.

That, he noted, also means protecting USF's ability to do research from the budget cuts engineered during the last legislative session by state Sen. JD Alexander.

"Shame on JD Alexander for what he did," Buckhorn said, drawing applause.

Hitting on familiar themes, Buckhorn also said that Tampa:

• Will be ready for the Republican National Convention, scheduled from Aug. 27-30. But he said traffic and parking in downtown Tampa will be difficult, partly because the convention "has commandeered virtually all of the parking lots that many of the employees in downtown park in." And he acknowledged that some downtown residents will be vexed.

"If you live on Harbour Island, North Carolina's a nice place that time of year," he joked.

• Will reapply for a federal transportation grant to finish the last piece of the Riverwalk.

"When we are done, that river will be the center of our downtown, not the western edge," he said.

For second year, Tampa faces potential $30 million budget shortfall 03/21/12 [Last modified: Thursday, March 22, 2012 12:19am]
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