TAMPA — The arrow for revenue from property taxes seems pointed in the right direction, but putting together the 2015 city budget probably will require closing a shortfall Mayor Bob Buckhorn estimates at $10 million to $15 million.
The good news? Three years ago, the shortfall was $34.5 million. By last year, it had fallen, but only to $19.2 million.
City officials are starting to work on the next year's budget, but it's still early, with just one quarter's worth of numbers for the current budget year, which started Oct. 1 and ends Sept. 30.
"The ad valorem property tax rebound usually lags a year to two behind" the larger economic recovery, Buckhorn said. "Most of the projects that are coming out of the ground now have not (received certificates of occupancy), so we're not collecting taxes yet."
So, yet again, Buckhorn plans to ask departments to search for ways to cut spending.
"Looking at where we can cut costs, not filling slots, pushing stuff down the road," he said. "In spite of the fact that we're coming out of the recession, we're going to do the very same thing we did three years ago when we had a $34 million deficit."
This year, property tax revenues are forecast to rise for the first time in seven years and the assumption for next year is for another year of growth, said city chief financial officer Sonya Little. Officials also are watching revenues from the communication services tax, TECO Energy Corp. franchise fees and the utility tax, along with expenses like pension, health care and fuel costs.
Unknown at this point is whether the city will draw on the city's cash reserves again, something Buckhorn and the City Council want to avoid.
In his first three years in office, Buckhorn dipped into reserves for $7.2 million (2012), $7.2 million (2013) and $7.5 million (this year) to balance the budget.
Still, City Hall's rainy day fund has $95 million in it, or about 25 percent of the city's general spending. That's above the 20 percent sought by the Wall Street agencies that rate Tampa's bonds and, in so doing, influence the interest Tampa pays when it borrows money.
"If we do, it will be a far smaller number than we've had to tap the last three years," Buckhorn said. "My goal is not to have to do it."
Richard Danielson can be reached at (813) 226-3403, Danielson@tampabay.com or @Danielson_Times on Twitter.