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  1. Hillsborough

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor presents $1-billion budget plan to City Council

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor made her first budget presentation to City Council on Thursday, outlining her roughly $1.04 billion proposal in front of a packed council chamber at Old City Hall. She is pictured here giving a speech after taking the oath of office in May. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]
Published Aug. 1

TAMPA — Mayor Jane Castor's first appearance — and initial budget presentation — before Tampa City Council was a relatively staid affair Thursday.

Speaking slowly, and making sure to ask if people were still awake, Castor outlined her roughly $1.04 billion budget proposal in front of a packed council chamber at Old City Hall.

"Now we face rebuilding our reserves. We must be prepared to weather another recession, if anything comes our way," Castor said.

The proposal includes $11.8 million for capital improvements to transportation and more than $9.5 million in grant money for affordable housing projects.

She wants to boost the city's reserves, preparing for a possible economic downturn. She's not proposing a property tax hike, as then-Mayor Bob Buckhorn did two years ago to the chagrin of some council members.

But in recent weeks, it's become clear that Castor won't have a completely straightforward path to budget approval.

Council member Bill Carlson, who represents South Tampa, has said he wouldn't vote for the budget if the city keeps moving forward with its wastewater reuse project, called the Tampa Augmentation Project.

Another council member, Guido Maniscalco, said he wanted money to be used to reopen city pools in West Tampa and Seminole Heights.

After the meeting, both Carlson and Maniscalco seemed to think Castor was heading in the right direction.

"I applaud Mayor Castor and her team for listening to the community and focusing on issues that are important to residents rather than expensive vanity projects," Carlson said in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times.

Maniscalco said he noticed $100,000 for a "pool study" in the budget. He's not sure if that's specifically for the pools he's interested in, but is encouraged by Castor's plan.

"I wasn't ignored," he said. "Am I super happy? No. I was hoping for half the funding for one of the pools. But at least this is a start."

The mayor's budget comes in at just over $1 billion, with about $435 million proposed for the general fund. About $256 million has been set aside for the police department and Fire Rescue.

Buckhorn's last budget proposal for fiscal year 2019 was slightly more than $1.02 billion, with roughly $413 million in the general fund.

Castor kept her public statements vague in the lead-up to her presentation, providing little indication as to what she might do with the city's first budget surplus in eight years, an estimated $3.7 million. In June, though, she said this budget wouldn't include any "big-ticket" items.

The mayor on Thursday did say she wants to set aside $1.1 million to help buy 550 body cameras for police officers. During her campaign, the former police chief promised to equip more officers with the technology.

While campaigning, she also pledged to boost transit options and tackle growing affordable housing issues in a city that is rapidly gentrifying.

The proposed budget calls for:

• Setting aside $1.6 million in state and federal grant funding to help 120 moderate to low-income families buy homes. Castor also wants to use grant money to build 75 new affordable homes in East Tampa and plans to "increase rental opportunities" with 200 new affordable units.

• Providing $11.8 million to handle transit infrastructure issues, with about $10.3 million for street resurfacing, traffic calming and other roadway improvements.

• Hiring a sustainability and resilience officer to address the effects of climate change and spending $13.8 million on flood control projects.

Castor said she expects the city won't need to dip into reserves for this budget cycle. The city must approve a balanced budget by Oct. 1.

Contact Sam Ogozalek at sogozalek@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3430. Follow @SamOgozalek.

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