Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio used her annual state of the city message Wednesday to give residents some much-needed plain talk and sense of perspective. She did not sugar-coat the challenges of providing services to a growing city amid a slowing economy. Iorio has never been one to lay it on thick; if anything, the tone and substance of her remarks were meant to reassure as much as inspire. But neither did she overlook the gains in Tampa that should bear fruit once the economy recovers. Her message was the right mix of reality and optimism.
The mayor proclaimed the state of the city as "good" — a flat sound bite but an apt description of the economic climate. She acknowledged that cuts in tax revenue, property values and spending would force the city to rethink how it operates. That may mean more layoffs and service cuts, at least in the short term. The downturn in real estate and legal challenges to tax-backed urban renewal projects also have delayed several multimillion-dollar private redevelopment plans. The pressure on the city's operating budget will likely not ease for years, until credit stabilizes and new housing and retail get added to the tax base. Iorio vowed to spare uniformed police and firefighters and said she would try to make any cuts in support areas and not in places the public would notice.
These annual addresses are a chance for the mayor to shape the coming budget and policy debates. She had good news to draw on, from the continued drop in crime to the progress on major road, downtown and central-city rehabilitation projects.
The mayor also extended a hand to the City Council, the clearest indicator of the tough times ahead. The two sides need to work more closely together. While the council has brought good issues to the table, such as the environmentally sensitive building ordinance, it too often gets sidetracked on turf and ego, which the public cares little about.
Every Florida city has challenges. Iorio was right to press the case that Tampa will continue to invest — $400-million in the next two years alone — in capital projects to improve downtown, the city's museums and tourist amenities and its underlying infrastructure. "We're not going to stop for one minute, because cities can never stop growing," she said. That's an attitude the city needs. The mayor needs to keep that vision as she steers the city through some difficult times in the years ahead.