TAMPA — Mayor Bob Buckhorn said Monday he will propose a 2011-12 city budget that eliminates 21 vacant positions but includes no layoffs.
Tampa's property tax rate would remain unchanged, but a proposed increase in the city's franchise fee for Tampa Electric would cost the utility's city customers another $1.50 per month on their power bills.
Sworn in on April 1, Buckhorn was heading into the coming fiscal year with a $34.5 million revenue shortfall in the city's general fund.
"It was a pretty bleak scenario," he said. Contributing to that gap were falling real estate values, required contributions to employee pensions, a deficit in the parking division and rising health care costs.
But Buckhorn and city budget officials said they can cover most of the shortfall with:
• $9 million from the carry-forward of money that was budgeted for this year but is not expected to be spent.
• $7 million from the increase in the Tampa Electric franchise fee.
• $3 million from the job eliminations, consolidation of some public works services, cuts in pre-employment health screenings and other efficiencies. The 21 vacant jobs are in purchasing and contract administration (one each), code enforcement and growth management (two each), revenue and finance (three), parks and recreation (four) and public works (eight).
• $2 million from a stepped-up effort to collect unpaid EMS bills and code enforcement fines.
• $2 million in new revenue from red-light traffic enforcement cameras expected to go into operation in November.
• $2 million in higher than expected revenue from the Tampa Convention Center.
• $2 million to be realized by buying police vehicles with community investment tax revenues instead of general funds.
• $1.5 million because property tax values declined 4 percent, not the 6 percent that officials had feared.
"I never thought I'd be excited about a negative 4 percent," Buckhorn said. "In this environment, I'm ecstatic."
The mayor's proposed budget also would use $6 million of the $102 million in reserves that former Mayor Pam Iorio built up during her eight years in office.
"The upshot of this is we're smaller, we're leaner," said Buckhorn, who will travel to New York this week to brief the three major bond-rating agencies on the city's budget.
"I think we have done what needed to be done and have gotten this budget in the position where we're healthy," he said. "Our financial outlook is stable. The impact on our services is minimized. The impact on our employees is minimized."
The proposed budget also delivers on two campaign promises that Buckhorn made to police, whose politically influential union first backed former Mayor Dick Greco, but swung its support to Buckhorn in the runoff.
First, Buckhorn is not cutting any police positions. Also, his budget includes step increases, which are awarded based on years of service, for police and firefighters, as well as merit increases for other city employees.
Two years ago, then-Mayor Pam Iorio suspended the raises to avoid what she said would otherwise be significant layoffs.
Last year, she reinstated the raises.
Asked whether the raises could be unpopular with taxpayers in such a tight budget environment, Buckhorn noted that he's not proposing anything that Iorio didn't do last year.
Moreover, he said, police have reduced serious crime in Tampa more than 60 percent in eight years.
"By any measure, they have performed above and beyond the call of duty," he said. So supporting step raises for "men and women who get up every day and put Kevlar on or bunker gear is a cost I'm willing to take a hit for."
Buckhorn is scheduled to present his proposed budget to the City Council on July 28, nearly three weeks before the deadline set by the City Charter.
But city officials began briefing council members Monday in advance of a budget workshop on Thursday.
"It's better news than I expected," council member Yvonne Yolie Capin said.
Council member Mary Mulhern said she liked getting this budget "much earlier" than in the past and was pleased that it would not require layoffs.
Council members also welcomed the initiative to be more aggressive about collecting unpaid ambulance bills and code enforcement fines, which Mulhern said the council has talked about for years.
"That definitely is money that we were leaving on the table," Capin said.
The council has scheduled public hearings on the budget for 5:01 p.m. on Sept. 7 and Sept. 21. Once approved, the new budget will run from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, 2012.
Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.