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Tampa mayor's address tackles good, bad and budget

TAMPA — Mayor Pam Iorio repeated her yearly refrain Wednesday that the "state of the city is good" in her annual address, but not before acknowledging tension with the City Council and the need for budget cuts and layoffs.

Speaking to an overflow audience of mostly city employees in a convention center ballroom, Iorio pledged to try to find city jobs for employees whose positions are eliminated and trim expenses without affecting services to the public.

The current city budget is about $760-million. Preliminary figures show the city needs to cut nearly $17-million from next year's budget to accommodate declining revenues from property taxes.

"Times are difficult. We all know that," Iorio said.

But just like individuals, she said, a city is "judged by how you deal with the tough times."

Iorio said she and council members don't always agree on how to rein in spending.

"That's a normal part of the political process," she said.

Council members have generally resisted her proposal to privatize some city services and lay off 100 employees.

And last week, the council nixed her plan to spend $690,000 on a contract with a private company to inspect fire hydrants. Council members argued that it could be done in house for less.

But Iorio said she believes she and the council have a shared interest in improving the city.

She said she plans to spend $400-million in the next two years on capital projects such as a new art museum and replacing crumbling water pipes. Money for those projects, she said, comes from sources earmarked for construction, not property taxes that pay for expenses such as salaries, Iorio said.

"When this economy turns around, we're going to be in an even better position to invite more investment in this community," she said.

Iorio devoted a portion of her 20-minute speech to the importance of a regional rail system. The Florida Department of Transportation is widening local highways, but she said those roads are likely to be congested as soon as they're completed.

"That's not the answer to our long-term needs," she said, pointing out that a newly-created regional transportation group she serves on is laying the groundwork for better transit. "I am convinced that one day we will have a light rail system that will be an alternative to our congested highways."

Jerry Fogle, a maintenance supervisor in the parks and recreation department, said after the speech that even though he's worried about losing his job, he believes Iorio is doing the best she can.

"Some difficult obstacles have been thrown at her and the city," he said. "I know she doesn't take it lightly."

Louis Alcantara, who works in facilities management, said Iorio's speech was "right on the money with every subject."

"She has to do what she has to do," he said. "She seems to be a very honest mayor."

City Council member Joseph Caetano, called Iorio's speech "straightforward and sincere."

Although he led the charge against Iorio's private contract for fire hydrant inspections, he praised her dedication on Wednesday.

"She's a helluva a cheerleader," he said. "She did a great job."

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Tampa mayor's address tackles good, bad and budget 03/13/08 [Last modified: Thursday, March 13, 2008 12:58am]
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