Hillsborough County’s budget adds parks and cultural spending

Commissioners add nearly $20 million in projects, including money for Straz Center, bike trails and splash pads.
The David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Tampa is one of the beneficiaries of planned spending in the 2022 Hillsborough County budget that begins Oct. 1.
The David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Tampa is one of the beneficiaries of planned spending in the 2022 Hillsborough County budget that begins Oct. 1. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published July 29, 2021

TAMPA — Hillsborough County plans to invest new money in places to play and to watch plays.

Recreation and culture emerged as significant beneficiaries of the proposed 2022 county budget Thursday, as commissioners approved $19.6 million worth of additions, known commonly as their flag items.

The list of 34 projects included $9 million for parks, bicycle trails and splash pads, plus $2.7 million for museums, performing arts and cultural centers. Commissioners also set aside new money for a fire rescue unit, affordable housing, the South County ferry and a long-awaited design study to widen Lithia Pinecrest Road.

“I had a lot of confidence that this board was going to reflect our collective values and the choices that it made and I really feel like the list does that,” said Commissioner Harry Cohen. “We really have covered an awful lot of ground with a limited amount of money.”

The commission earmarked $2 million for the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts to help finance its $100 million master plan. It would create more event space, remake the Riverwalk and Tyler Street approaches to the facility and expand cultural offerings at the 35-year-old riverfront complex.

The public support is essential to leverage matching private donations, said Gary Sasso, chairman of the center’s board of trustees

“It’s essential that we invest to prepare the Straz Center for future generations for many more years,” he told commissioners.

The money is available because of growing property tax revenue in the new fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. The two general funds in the proposed $7.14 billion budget are financed in part by the new property tax dollars reflecting an 8.2 percent increase in real estate values.

Related: Hillsborough budget rosier than expected

Commissioners took note that more than 80 percent of that growth came from residential property.

“That’s not all a rosy financial picture. Every new house brings expenses in infrastructure,” said Commissioner Mariella Smith.

“That means home values are up, but it also means our community has more to pay for homeownership and has a larger barrier to entry to home ownership,” said Commissioner Kimberly Overman, who advocated for affordable housing programs.

Many of the appropriations, commissioners said, should be considered down payments on what likely will be requests for future spending on the same items. The Upper Tampa Bay Trail construction could cost $7 million, said Commissioner Ken Hagan. The Straz Center wants an annual investment, and widening Lithia Pinecrest Road from two to four lanes would cost $97 million, according to a 2016 estimate.

Commissioners unanimously agreed to the added projects, then set the property tax rates for the coming year at their current levels and scheduled public hearings on the proposed budget in September.

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The county budget includes two separate tax rates. All property is assessed at a rate of just less than $5.74 per $1,000 of property. 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 $4.38 per $1,000. Property owners within the cities of Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace pay separate taxes to their municipal governments.

The complete project list and its sponsors were:

Commissioner Harry Cohen: New fire rescue unit, $1,67 million; David A. Straz Center for Performing Arts master plan, $2 million and Tampa Museum of Art master plan, $250,000.

Commissioner Ken Hagan: Thonotosassa Park improvements, $3 million; Branchton Park improvements, $1 million; community food pantry, $50,000 and pet resources, $257,600.

Commission Chairwoman Pat Kemp: Upper Tampa Bay Trail, $1 million; South County high speed ferry, $1 million; Enterprising Latinas workforce development, $100,000; Museum of Science and Industry butterfly garden and trail restoration, $100,000 and community stepping stones, $50,000.

Commissioner Gwen Myers: Splash pads for Kenly, Winston and Emanuel Johnson parks, $2.55 million; Dress For Success, $25,000; Dream Builders Mission, Inc, $25,000; MLK Parade Foundation, $35,000; African American Museum and Cultural Center, $250,000; CDC of Tampa, $200,000; Skills Center, $500,000 and Sulphur Springs Museum, $25,000.

Commissioner Kimberly Overman: Affordable Housing/HOPE Fund, $1 million; eviction diversion and housing stabilization, $500,000; Future Career Academy, $250,000; Metro Inclusive Health $100,000; care coordinator for human trafficking court $100,000; Jobsite Theater, $25,000; urban agriculture community initiative, $100,000 and community food systems development, $200,000.

Commissioner Mariella Smith: South Coast Greenway Trail, $1.52 million and feasibility/locational analysis for South County cultural center, $100,000

Commissioner Stacy White: Lithia Pinecrest Road study $225,000; My Warrior’s Place, $2,500 and Osprey Ridge Drive resurfacing, $1.22 million.