TAMPA — The City Council on Thursday voted to keep Tampa's property tax rate the same as last year, rejecting a recommendation from a committee created by the council to advise it on budget issues.
The citizens advisory group had suggested reducing the rate by 5 percent and covering the $8-million cost to the city with money from reserve funds, which total about $70-million.
Committee member Mark Anderson said such an approach would help Tampa residents suffering in a slumping economy, and wouldn't require cutting city services.
Council members thanked the committee for its work, then voted 6-1 to keep the property tax rate steady at 5.7326 mills. A mill represents $1 for every $1,000 in taxable property value.
Council member Mary Mulhern, who pushed to create the committee, cast the lone dissenting vote.
"It seems like a very reasoned report," she said. "If council doesn't give some consideration to the committee's recommendations, then we may not have a committee next year."
Other council members, though, weren't swayed.
City finance director Bonnie Wise said Mayor Pam Iorio has made a conscious decision to increase the city's reserves, boosting them by nearly 70 percent since she took office in 2003.
Healthy savings help the city get good rates when borrowing for capital projects, Wise said.
The money also will help if Tampa gets a direct hit by a hurricane, she said. The city has nearly $1.9-billion in assets, with many buildings on the water, but has only $50-million worth of property insurance for storm damage, Wise said.
Before the vote, council member John Dingfelder pointed out that the council already has cut the property tax rate by 12 percent in the past four years.
The council made only one change Thursday to the $836-million budget presented by Iorio last month.
At the suggestion of Dingfelder, it agreed to allocate $50,000 for building permit rebates for environmentally friendly construction. The rebates are part of a green building ordinance approved by the council earlier this year.
Although it rejected the citizen advisory committee's property tax rate cut, the City Council agreed to look at some of the group's other recommendations, including reducing fuel consumption and the size of the city's fleet of vehicles, and releasing budget documents earlier in the year to provide more time for a thorough review.
A final vote on the property tax rate and budget is scheduled for Sept. 24 at 5 p.m.
Janet Zink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3401.