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PolitiFact Florida | St. Petersburg Times
Sorting out the truth in state politics

Greco correctly describes bonds, but claim about reduced Tampa debt is misleading

Former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco on Nov. 29 announced a fifth run for the city's top job.

At his campaign kickoff, Greco pledged to sling no mud at his six declared opponents in the non-partisan March 1 election.

"I have a record to run on. Several of them," said Greco, who was elected to four terms as mayor, serving 1967 to 1974 and 1995 to 2003.

At Monday's event, he waved a 75-page booklet that details accomplishments in every city department during his last two terms in office, signaling that its contents will form the basis for his campaign. While it's loaded with information, a statement in the Revenue and Finance Department section on page 56 jumped out at us. Greco said he "refinanced $232.6 million in bonds resulting in reduced debt service for the City."

We wondered: Could a mayor known for his free-spending ways on huge projects have actually lowered the city's debt payments?

City budget documents show that multiple bonds totaling $232.6 million were indeed refinanced during Greco's tenure.

They are:

• A $45.6 million water and sewer bond issued in 1988 and refinanced in 1998.

• A $52 million utility tax bond issued in 1991 and refinanced in 2001.

• A $66.1 million water and sewer bond issued in 1999 and refinanced in 2001.

• A total of $31.2 million from a sewer state revolving loan fund refinanced into 2002 water and sewer bonds.

• A $37.7 million water and sewer bond issued in 1992 and refinanced in 2002.

It's true that refinancing those bonds resulted in lower debt payments — by at least $21 million — over several decades.

But the statement in Greco's booklet, by itself, could lead someone to believe that the city's total debt went down during his tenure.

That's not the case. In fact, Tampa's total debt payments in 1995 were $62.5 million and climbed to $80.2 million in 2002. The city's total debt increased from $682 million to more than $1 billion during that time.

Among the $480.6 million in bonds that contributed to that increased debt:

• $23.6 million issued in 1996 for police headquarters, district offices and fire rescue vehicles.

• $62.8 million issued in 1999 to renovate the Hillsborough River water treatment plant.

• $19.2 million issued in 1998 for an Ybor parking garage and parking lots.

• $190.5 million issued in 1999 to upgrade the city's waste-to-energy facility and construct a new administration building.

• $24.8 million issued in 1999 for the electric streetcar and other transportation projects.

• $55.6 million issued in 2001 for an art museum, Lowry Park Zoo expansion and other projects.

When asked about the statement, Greco said he doesn't believe it suggests any broad message about the city's total debt payments, and it refers only to specific bonds that were refinanced. He notes that the status report on the Revenue and Finance Department also details the issuing of new bonds.

"This sentence puts in context that new bonds were being issued, in addition to bonds that were being refinanced," he said.

Adding that all up, we find Greco correctly described the bonds that were refinanced during his years as mayor. But taken in isolation, the statement about the lowered debt payments for Tampa is misleading. That's because it doesn't include hundreds of millions in new bonds that were issued at the same time.

Therefore, we rate the statement Half True.

The statement

"Refinanced $232.6 million in bonds, resulting in reduced debt service for the City."

Dick Greco, in a report on his past accomplishments as Tampa mayor

The ruling

Greco correctly described the bonds that were refinanced during his years as mayor. But taken in isolation, the statement about the lowered debt payments for Tampa is misleading. That's because it doesn't include hundreds of millions in new bonds that were issued at the same time. Therefore, we rate the statement Half True.

Greco correctly describes bonds, but claim about reduced Tampa debt is misleading 12/03/10 [Last modified: Friday, December 3, 2010 11:31pm]
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