TAMPA — After considerable prodding, mayoral candidate Rose Ferlita on Wednesday unveiled a plan that brings together her ideas to control city costs, stimulate business and make City Hall more transparent.
It includes a temporary suspension of transportation impact fees, a proposal to encourage business loans partly backed by the city in redevelopment areas and ideas to make City Hall easier to navigate.
The release came a week after voters sent Ferlita and Bob Buckhorn into a March 22 runoff, and after days of questions from Buckhorn and others about why she had not presented a more detailed plan sooner.
Ferlita responded that she had discussed many, if not most, of the ideas in the plan during the course of the campaign.
"Today I'm revealing yet additional specifics of my plan," Ferlita said in a news conference at her campaign headquarters.
Ferlita, a former Hillsborough County commissioner and Tampa City Council member, described the plan as a work in progress, one that draws on what she hears as she campaigns.
"Over the last several months leading to this election, I have met with families, business and community leaders and other government officials, and I cherish the input they have given me, and I certainly embrace their ideas," she said.
At the same time, Ferlita criticized Buckhorn's job-creation plan as "elitist" and one that would foster bureaucracy, especially in its proposed creation of two new deputy mayors, one for economic opportunity and the other for neighborhood and community empowerment.
"His talks about where he wants the city to go," she said. "My plan addresses how we get there in plain, simple straight talk."
Buckhorn said he welcomes any move by Ferlita to add detail to the debate about the city's future. He said his proposed deputy mayors would come from consolidation of existing positions.
"I'm excited," he said. "I was looking forward to a competition of ideas. For a while, I thought my opponent was unarmed."
Buckhorn went on to dismiss Ferlita's plan, which includes a side-by-side comparison of the two candidates' proposals, as "mainly a critique of my plan, which I take as a great compliment."
In her plan, Ferlita offered several new proposals and brought together other ideas she has mentioned occasionally — and sometimes briefly — during the campaign. As proposed, she would:
• Suspend transportation impact fees for a year to jump-start construction.
• Better promote Tampa as an inexpensive place to do business and look at creating a low-cost loan program for businesses that want to build or expand in areas targeted for redevelopment.
• Require a "fiscal impact analysis" for every proposed ordinance, contract, program or initiative. The analysis would look at costs and benefits of each proposal and identify funding sources and long-term personnel impacts. She also proposes outsourcing some or all janitorial and security services at city parks and exploring consolidating departments such as purchasing, fleet maintenance and cable television with the county.
• Make more city records and files on matters from rezonings to major city contracts available electronically. She also would put a master calendar of city meetings online and provide an organizational chart listing telephone numbers and e-mail addresses for managers and supervisors.
• Hire collection agencies to pursue some money owed the city, such as non-emergency fire rescue transport fees, old utility receivables and code enforcement fines for repeat offenders.
• Empanel a committee of employees, including the budget director, plus community leaders from the financial and human resources industries to propose reforms for employee benefits.
• Use graduate students from the University of South Florida or the University of Tampa in low-cost or no-cost internships on areas such as technology, transportation, engineering and public administration.
Along with releasing the plan, Ferlita's campaign got two boosts Wednesday.
The first was a new poll that put her 10 points ahead of Buckhorn, 43 percent to 33 percent among likely city voters, with 24 percent undecided.
The poll was commissioned by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. Hamilton Campaigns, which generally works for Democrats, surveyed 300 registered voters who said they are likely to vote in the runoff. The poll was conducted March 2-6 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 5.7 percent.
Buckhorn was skeptical.
"It's totally inconsistent with what our numbers look like," he said. "I don't know anything about the methodology. Polls are a snapshot. It's not going to affect our strategy one way or another."
Ferlita also won an endorsement from one of Hillsborough's most revered public servants: Fred Karl, former state legislator, state Supreme Court justice, county administrator, county attorney and interim city attorney for outgoing Mayor Pam Iorio.
"Rose Ferlita is my choice to move Tampa forward," Karl said in a statement. "It is my pleasure to support and endorse her plans to revive Tampa's economy and bring jobs to all of Tampa. I've seen Rose in action and how effective she is in the community. On balance, I feel she is the best candidate for the important office of mayor."