TAMPA — Mayor Bob Buckhorn proposed an $804.4 million budget Thursday that would use nearly $9 million in reserves and cut a small number of vacant positions, but not lay off any city employees or raise property taxes.
Buckhorn's 2012-13 budget is up $45 million from this year's $759.4 million budget. The increase is mainly due to spending on capital improvements for wastewater, stormwater drainage and the Riverwalk.
Presenting the budget to the City Council, Buckhorn touted city accomplishments in streamlining its permitting process, reducing crime and creating opportunities for redevelopment projects like the one to renovate the old federal courthouse into a boutique hotel.
While residential development is flat, permits for commercial projects are up 10 percent, Buckhorn said. Nearly $300 million in development is under way, largely because of multifamily projects in the Channel District and North Hyde Park, and improvements being built by Tampa General Hospital.
"It's not been easy, but I am ever the optimist," Buckhorn told the council. "I think that we will come out of this (economic slump) poised to lead this state."
As proposed, the city's property tax rate would remain about $5.73 in city taxes for every $1,000 of assessed, nonexempt property value. That means a taxpayer who owns a house assessed at $157,000 and has standard property tax exemptions would pay $613 in city taxes, the same as this year.
Going into this budget cycle, city officials faced a shortfall of $27.8 million in the city's general and utility tax fund, which pays for police, fire rescue, parks and recreation and the support services needed to run City Hall. Contributing to that deficit were the cost of capital projects, increased stormwater costs, pension increases, the cost of paying raises, health care costs and a slip in property value.
Closing that gap will require cutting the budgets for city departments by nearly $6 million, refinancing debt for the city's parking garages and increasing revenue at the Tampa Convention Center by $2 million.
Through consolidations, realignments and other moves, the budget also would eliminate 11 positions from the city's payroll, bringing the total number of authorized employees to 4,405. Over the past six years, the city has cut more than 700 positions as property tax revenues have dropped by nearly a third.
"We have tried to do this as surgically and strategically as we possibly can," Buckhorn said.
The city also will use $8.7 million of reserves to balance the budget, leaving the city with $103 million in reserves. That's enough to cover 27 percent of the city's total operating expenditures — better than the 20 percent coverage desired by credit rating agencies.
"It's not a preferred option," Buckhorn said of using the reserves, but "in this case, it's the only option."
Tampa's red-light cameras, which generate $158 tickets at more than a dozen intersections, are expected to produce $4 million in annual revenue — twice what officials had projected.
Last year, Buckhorn's budget included step increases for police and firefighters and merit raises for general city employees. Those raises had been suspended a year and then reinstated during the administration of former Mayor Pam Iorio.
But there are about 1,500 longtime city employees who did not receive those raises — and had not seen their pay go up in years — because they were at the top of their pay scale. This year, Buckhorn proposes to give that group a one-time 2 percent payment.
Buckhorn also said city officials found $1 million for a project that's been discussed for decades: dredging about a dozen residential canals in the West Shore area. Last fall, a $1.25 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency fell through because of congressional cuts to the EPA's budget.
Despite the loss, Buckhorn said the work needs to go forward and will start in the coming year.