Hillsborough County pockets most of its $10 million budget windfall

The proposed $7.48 billion county budget already includes $20 million toward commissioners’ pet projects.
Hillsborough County Center, located at 601 E Kennedy Blvd. in downtown Tampa.
Hillsborough County Center, located at 601 E Kennedy Blvd. in downtown Tampa. [ Times ]
Published Sept. 9, 2021

TAMPA — Hillsborough commissioners learned Wednesday night there was an extra $10 million available in the planned county budget to allocate as they wished. Here’s what they didn’t do: Spend it.

At least not yet.

The money, according to Kevin Brickey, director of management and budget, came from dollars not spent by constitutional officers, adjustments to fund balances and revised revenue estimates. It totaled $9.3 million in the countywide budget and $1 million for the spending plan covering unincorporated Hillsborough.

Compared to a nearly $7.48 billion budget proposal, already fattened by $285.9 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, a $10 million windfall might seem inconsequential. But since the dollars hadn’t been spoken for, it meant commissioners had the ability to steer discretionary spending, via one-time allocations, to their favored causes. The board already had earmarked nearly $20 million in so-called flag items, including park splash pads, affordable housing, the proposed South County ferry and assisting the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts with its multi-year master plan.

Related: Hillsborough County adds parks and cultural spending

“We’re not necessarily advocating that all these be spent,” Brickey said. “They can be put in reserves.”

But then Brickey noted the money could be used for trails, disaster preparedness or an additional allocation to the Straz Center.

Commissioners, however, didn’t let the money burn a hole in their pockets. Only Commissioner Ken Hagan floated a new flag item, seeking $20,000 for the Positive Coaching Alliance. The program, aimed at youth sports coaches, parents and athletes, currently operates in 10 county parks, but wants to expand to two more. Hagan said he also may ask for an unspecified amount in the future for improvements to Villa Rosa Park in Lutz.

Related: Hillsborough budget plan rosier than expected

During the budget’s public hearing, nine speakers, all affiliated with the Hillsborough Organization for Progress and Equality, asked the county to commit $350,000 toward annual operating expenses of a planned recover-to-work clubhouse to assist people with mental illness.

The capital cost of developing the clubhouse and the annual operations, however, already are being covered by a mix of public and private dollars from the county, BayCare, the Central Florida Behavioral Network, and the Agency for Community Treatment Services Inc., said County Administrator Bonnie Wise.

That left the unallocated $10 million as the only remaining item before the commission approved a tentative budget and status quo property tax rates and set a final public hearing for Sept. 23. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1

Commissioner Harry Cohen said he thought the earlier process of identifying 34 flag items, totaling nearly $20 million, worked well and “produced what I think is a very nice consensus of what the board’s priorities are.”

If there is extra money, Cohen said, “I’m sort of in favor of sticking with the priorities we’ve already set.”