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Mayor won't increase tax rate

New Mayor Dick Greco has changed a lot at Tampa City Hall, but he has no plans to break Sandy Freedman's six-year tradition of not raising the city's property tax rate.

"Nobody's touched that for a long time," he said during a discussion Thursday of the 1995-96 budget he will propose later this summer. "I don't even consider it."

Instead, Greco will pin his hopes for raising money for the police and fire departments on a proposed half-cent increase in Hillsborough County's sales tax.

That proposal goes to voters Sept. 12. If approved, it would raise the sales tax by a half-cent on the dollar for three years.

City and county officials estimate the increase would raise $158.7-million, and they propose to earmark the money exclusively for public safety and criminal justice projects.

A second referendum will ask voters to increase the sales tax by another half-cent for 12 years, with the money going for new schools and educational technology.

In the city, officials would use any additional sales tax revenues to build a new police station, buy 125 patrol cruisers and replace worn-out police and fire equipment.

"I don't know of any other way we could replace that police station," Greco said. "That place is a dump. It's horrible. . . . You've got police persons on top of each other, rats crawling around, walls falling in."

Greco said he did not realize that money would be so scarce at City Hall, but he said no one has asked him to back away from his campaign promise to improve public safety.

"Someone told me the other day, "These people helped you politically,' " Greco said. "Well, hell, so did 60-some percent of the other people" in the city.

The good thing about a sales tax, he said, is that "everybody participates, depending on what they buy, and the person that doesn't have as much doesn't spend as much."

Later, after a reporter noted that a sales tax is regressive because poor people will spend a larger percentage of their incomes paying it than the wealthy, Greco said he still sees it as the best way to raise money for law enforcement.

"The problem is that we don't have many places that we can go" for additional revenues, he said. "I think it's fairer than (property taxes). With (property taxes) you have to go quite high, and you keep hitting the same people over and over again."