TAMPA — Jane Castor has said her first budget as mayor is a conservative budget with little “wow” to it, but Thursday, she opened the purse strings a bit for a key vote.
Orlando Gudes, who has represented the city’s only majority-minority district since May, had asked Castor for a $2 million cultural arts center and an ambulance for his district. Currently, the closest fire rescue vehicle is in Ybor City.
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On Thursday, Gudes got the ambulance. In a memo to City Council members, Castor said East Tampa will get its own ambulance at a cost of $590,000 from community investment tax revenue and the city’s general fund.
Castor also listened to concerns from other council members about why there aren’t more neighborhood-specific items in her $1.4 billion budget — a proposal that would defer a lot of maintenance and bolster city reserves.
A master plan for improving city parks and recreation programs also will be included in the budget, at a cost of $400,000 in general revenue funds, according to the memo.
“With these changes and continued enthusiasm for taking care of our constituents, we can meet our budget goals while maintaining sound financial stewardship,” Castor wrote.
Shortly after the memo was delivered to council members, the city’s interim chief financial officer, Dennis Rogero, told council members that an uncertain economy made a conservative budget a prudent choice.
“We’re not out of the woods yet. We anticipate continuing, major challenges in front of us,” Rogero said, adding that the budget “is a little bit of a mixed bag."
The city will hold two public hearings on the budget, which needs to be approved by Sept. 30 before the start of the new fiscal year. Those dates are still up in the air, said assistance city attorney Salvatore Territo, pending the outcome of Hurricane Dorian.
During the council’s afternoon budget session, Gudes said he was “humbled” by Castor’s flexibility on the ambulance, but didn’t pledge his vote on the budget. The mayor needs four votes to get it approved.
“I think there is a little more room for conversation,” Gudes said. “District 5 is hungry.”
Gudes said after the meeting that he’s happy Castor has been responsive to his concerns. But he wants the new ambulance at Station 16 at 5126 E 10th Ave. to be staffed around the clock. The city’s position is that it will be staffed at least during peak call hours. That allows the city to meet Gudes’ request while maintaining a balanced budget, said John Bennett, Castor’s chief of staff.