TAMPA — Thanks to Tampa's first increase in property tax revenue in seven years, Mayor Bob Buckhorn on Thursday proposed an $830.9 million budget with a 2 percent raise for all city employees and reinforcements for overburdened code enforcement officers.
"In spite of this recession, it's been a good year," Buckhorn told the City Council.
Property taxes are the city's biggest single source of revenue. From 2007 to this year, they have fallen from $166.2 million to $115.7 million.
Next year, however, property tax revenues are expected to rise to $123 million, fueled by a recovering housing market and growth in real estate values. Commercial permits are projected to rise 20 percent compared to last year and residential permits are up 25 percent.
The city's tax rate would remain at about $5.73 in city taxes for every $1,000 of assessed, nonexempt property value. That means a taxpayer with a house assessed at $180,000 and standard homestead exemptions would pay $745 in city taxes next year.
Buckhorn's proposed budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1, is $26.5 million more than this year. Driving that 3.3 percent increase are:
• Personnel costs that include a proposed 2 percent raise for all employees, an 8 percent increase in health care costs, a 6 percent increase in pension contributions and expected increases in fuel and electricity costs.
• $3.5 million in spending to improve the city's network of utility pipes, the David L. Tippin Water Treatment Facility and the McKay Bay trash incinerator.
When officials started putting together next year's budget, they faced a revenue shortfall estimated at $19.2 million.
Contributing to that gap was a $2 million drop in revenue from red-light cameras, a one-time payment on a wide-ranging technology upgrade and a $3.4 million drop in convention center revenues. The falloff at the convention center followed cuts in federal spending that reduced the number of military events booked at the center.
"For anyone to say that what happens in Washington is irrelevant, it affects us; it affects us every day," Buckhorn said.
Facing that gap, Buckhorn welcomed the increase in property tax revenues, but still told city departments to find savings that would amount to 5 percent of this year's spending.
As he did the past two years, Buckhorn proposes to draw on city reserves to balance the budget. Officials say that even after using $7.5 million in reserves, City Hall's rainy day fund will stand at more than $95 million. That's equal to 25 percent of the city's spending — above the 20 percent demanded by bond rating agencies.
The total number of city employees would drop very slightly to 4,412, but Buckhorn does propose to add two code enforcement officers, bringing the number of authorized code enforcement positions to 31.
In addition, the city has moved to fill two vacant code enforcement positions and will cross-train five environmental inspectors to write code enforcement citations. That will give code enforcement a total of nine additional bodies, Buckhorn said.
Earlier this year, Buckhorn reorganized code enforcement and the city's Clean Team to be more focused on blight, but the mission was given added urgency this month by the rental property scandal involving former Tampa Port Authority chairman William "Hoe" Brown.
Brown resigned from the port authority after the Tampa Bay Times disclosed that he had crammed unpermitted trailers onto land he owns on the northern edge of Seminole Heights and was charging tenants for roach-infested units that the city's code enforcement director called "deplorable."
Buckhorn told council members he understood that they want an increased emphasis on code enforcement.
"I know it's a priority for you," he said. "I made it a priority in this budget."
Council member Frank Reddick, who has complained about code enforcement for months, described Buckhorn's proposals as "a fresh start," but "this is just a start."
Reddick said he plans to propose an ordinance requiring more coordination between police, code enforcement and the city's legal department.
"When law enforcement is going out there for disturbance calls," he said, "they need to be the eyes and ears for code enforcement."