NEW TAMPA — On the eve of her seventh anniversary as Tampa's mayor, Pam Iorio talked Wednesday evening about the past year's difficult budget decisions and touted achievements like the city's new riverfront park.
Iorio spoke to about 50 people during a State of the City address at Hunter's Green Elementary School, summing up the past year with a video. When technical difficulties cut the visual presentation short, Iorio quipped: "It's been a pretty good year."
She fielded questions that dealt mainly with an issue that is on the minds of many residents in this northeastern pocket of the county: transportation.
They touched on light rail and the high-speed train, the proposed Interstate 75 flyover bridge and potholes. And she got help from city officials including transportation manager Jean Dorzback and Tampa Fire Rescue Chief Dennis Jones, both of whom are New Tampa residents.
Among the highlights:
• Iorio is excited about the planned high-speed rail that will connect Tampa to Orlando, made possible by $1.25 billion from the federal government.
• City officials believe there is a need for a bridge over Interstate 75 to connect West Meadows and Tampa Palms. "We need to take care of the travel needs that we have," Dorzback said. "Bruce B. Downs is quite strained as it is." Residents unhappy with the proposed bridge asked what they could do to stop it. Dorzback replied: "I don't have anything at the moment on that. Sorry."
• New Tampa resident Cyril Spiro asked about potholes that have opened up on Cross Creek Boulevard, which was widened and repaved less than five years ago. The crumbling pockets of road are a result of the poor choice of asphalt that was used to pave the street, Dorzback said. She blamed it on a contractor and said the potholes will be fixed.
• Jones, the fire chief, talked briefly about the new fire station planned for the eastern end of Cross Creek Boulevard. When completed by the summer of 2011, Fire Station 22 will be the city's first building to be certified for environmental sustainability. It is being funded by a $1.6 million federal grant.
Several children asked Iorio questions, such as how she became mayor and if she had always dreamed about that job.
Asked about the toughest thing she has had to do as mayor, Iorio grew solemn.
"The hardest thing for me is taking our work force and shrinking it," she said. "You can talk about it in theory, but when you're actually shrinking it, you're affecting people's lives and that has been very difficult for me."
Samantha Scott, student council president at Hunter's Green Elementary, asked Iorio what it's like being mayor.
"It's the best thing in the whole world," she said. "It's a privilege to be given the opportunity to shape a village."
Today marks the first day of Iorio's final year as mayor.
Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at (813) 909-4613.