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In $6.7 billion budget, Hillsborough commission adds $135,000

COVID-related sales tax dip limits new spending plans.
LUIS SANTANA   |   Times
Bus riders get off a HART bus at the University Area Transit Center. Thursday, Hillsborough County commissioners said they would allocate $50,000 for the transit agency in the upcoming county budget, one of three appropriations totaling $135,000 agreed to by commissioners.
LUIS SANTANA | Times Bus riders get off a HART bus at the University Area Transit Center. Thursday, Hillsborough County commissioners said they would allocate $50,000 for the transit agency in the upcoming county budget, one of three appropriations totaling $135,000 agreed to by commissioners. [ LUIS SANTANA | Tampa Bay Times (2019) ]
Published Jul. 30, 2020

TAMPA — The financial flags flown by Hillsborough County commissioners are remaining close to the ground.

The commission met Thursday morning in a budget workshop, but unlike recent years, the process of board members flagging items to add to the proposed budget was diminished by limited dollars.

“We don’t have a big pot of money to add things to the budget,” said Commission Chairman Les Miller Jr. “We still have some problems.”

Despite robust 8.7 percent growth in the property tax rolls that will generate $73 million in additional tax dollars in the new fiscal year, the county is facing a constrained budget because of dropping sales tax collections due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The proposed $6.712 billion spending plan reflects an increase of just less than 1 percent over the current budget. Proposed new spending in the general fund includes: Hiring 66 employees to staff two new fire stations under construction; replacing a Head Start facility; adding a new south county adult daycare center; buying body cameras for sheriff’s deputies, and bringing minimum starting pay for county employees to $15 per hour.

Related: Budget shorts transportation shortfall

Thursday was the second time commissioners had been briefed on the proposed budget, but the first time they publicly offered their own spending ideas.

In a series of unanimous votes, commissioners agreed to add $50,000 for an expansion of the Metro Inclusive Health Center in Tampa; $35,000 for a new van for the Helen Gordon Davis Centrefor Women and $50,000 for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority.

Commissioner Kimberly Overman had sought $500,000 for the health center, but her initial motion died without a second.

Commissioner Mariella Smith’s funding request for HART drew the most debate.

“They have suffered greatly in their budget with COVID, yet they are a lifeblood system of our county,” said Smith.

“I don’t think $50,000 is going to put a dent in anything,’' said Commissioner Sandy Murman who eventually supported the motion.

So did Miller, but he also said it was an appropriate time for the board of HART to seek its own dedicated funding source. Miller, Smith, Overman and Commissioner Pat Kemp all sit on the 15-member HART board of directors.

Over the prior three budget years, the county provided subsidies of $5.4 million to HART, according to figures quoted by Smith. The agency also received $39.9 million in federal CARES Act funding because of the pandemic, she said.

Related: Hillsborough transit hit by double blow

HART said earlier this month that $24.4 million of that amount is slated for next year’s operating budget, helping offset rising personnel costs, rebuild cash reserves and cover a projected $2.3 million loss in fare revenue. The agency’s proposed operating and capital budget for next year is $146.8 million.

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“I believe its important to us that we take a stand in investing in infrastructure, which includes transit,’' said Overman.

The board also agreed with Commissioner Ken Hagan’s suggestion to invest in resurfacing residential streets, if the county staff can identify a funding source.

Still more work on the proposed budget lies ahead. The county is expecting to receive an amended budget request from Hillsborough County Clerk of the Circuit Court Pat Frank because of a statewide downturn in court fines and fees that help fund court operations. The office is looking at a $3.7 million shortfall. The clerk’s budget is $62 million, with $30.5 million earmarked for courts.

The commission also set its tentative tax rates that have been status quo for a dozen years. All property is assessed at a rate of just less than $5.74 per $1,000 of property value. Businesses and residents in the unincorporated areas of the county, about two-thirds of the county population, also pay a rate of just less than $4.74 per $1,000 for services such as fire, parks and recreation, code enforcement and other departments. Property within the three cities of Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace pay separate taxes to their municipal governments.

Two public hearings on the budget are scheduled for Sept. 10 and Sept. 17 before final adoption. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

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