TAMPA — Mayor Bob Buckhorn looks at the $765.4 million city budget unanimously approved by the City Council on Wednesday night and sees no tax increase, no layoffs and no gaping holes.
"It hasn't been easy," he said, but "given the state of the economy and the state of the deficit, it came out okay."
The Buck-O-Meter, which tracks the mayor's performance on 33 campaign promises, looks at the budget and sees two Promises Kept — both to a key constituency. The Buck-O-Meter is a local accountability project of PolitiFact Florida, the political fact-checking arm of the St. Petersburg Times.
During his campaign for mayor, Buckhorn told the Tampa Police Benevolent Association, the politically influential union representing the city's 975 sworn officers, that he did not support reducing the number of officers through layoffs or attrition. In response to a separate question from the association, Buckhorn did support paying police and firefighters annual step increases, a raise based on their years of service.
Former Mayor Pam Iorio suspended the raises for one year to avert layoffs, but reinstated them her last year in office. Still, the PBA asked every candidate for mayor about support for step raises.
In a surprise twist, the union endorsed former Mayor Dick Greco in the primary but Buckhorn in the runoff, giving him a key boost over former County Commissioner Rose Ferlita.
The 2011-12 fiscal year budget approved Wednesday delivers on both promises. After seeing serious crime in Tampa drop by more than 60 percent over eight years, Buckhorn said it wouldn't make sense to take officers off the street. Paying the step increases, as well as merit increases for other city employees, will cost an estimated $2.4 million. But Buckhorn notes that commitment merely honors the existing contracts with the city's unions.
Buckhorn, who took office April 1, started the budget process with a projected deficit of $34.5 million. To close that, the city carried forward $9 million from this year to next, used $6 million in reserves and raised $7 million through a $1.50-per-month increase in the Tampa Electric franchise fee charged to the utility's customers in the city.
Millions more will come from cutting 21 vacant city positions, using surveillance cameras to ticket drivers who run red lights and more aggressively collecting unpaid code enforcement fines and ambulance bills. The budget keeps the property tax rate at $5.73 for every $1,000 of assessed taxable value. That means a city tax bill of $613 for the average homeowner with standard exemptions.
The 2011-12 budget goes into effect Oct. 1, and Buckhorn said work will soon begin on next year's budget, which he expects to be just as tough.
On his first budget, though, we rate his performance on his two pledges to Tampa police as Promises Kept.