TAMPA — The City Council on Wednesday postponed an important public hearing on the city's budget and property tax rate for 2018 due to Hurricane Irma.
With Tampa residents still returning home, cleaning up and waiting for power to come on, city officials said it was unfair to expect residents to drop what they were doing, trek to City Hall and weigh in on the budget.
"I don't think two days after a major storm was the appropriate time," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said before the meeting.
So the council reset the hearing for 6 p.m. Monday. The council sets a tax rate at the first public hearing. After that, it can be lowered, but not raised. A final public hearing is expected at 5 p.m. Sept. 28. The city's budget year begins Oct. 1.
Buckhorn has proposed a $974.2 million budget that is based on Tampa's first increase in the property tax rate since 1989. Buckhorn's proposed rate is $6.63 in city taxes for every $1,000 of taxable property value — or $140 more next year for a homeowner who lives in a house assessed at $166,579, the city average.
Buckhorn's proposed tax rate is 15.7 percent higher than the city's current property tax rate. It is nearly 22.6 percent higher than what state law defines as the "rollback rate." That's the rate the city would have to set to account for growth in property values and to take in the same total amount of revenue next year that it collects now.
Buckhorn says the tax increase is needed to improve parks, expand fire service and prepare for looming financial challenges ahead — including paying increases for health insurance and pension obligations and repaying tens of millions of dollars borrowed in the mid-1990s, with no payments made for two decades.
Not surprisingly, the size of the tax increase gave several council members sticker shock. After some pushback, Buckhorn's staff has offered two alternatives:
• Trim the proposed tax rate 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.
• Reduce the proposed tax rate 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.
Contact Richard Danielson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times