Tampa aims for second consecutive budget that doesn't tap reserves

Published June 19, 2015

TAMPA — For the second straight year, City Hall is looking to adopt a budget that doesn't dip into the city's rainy day fund, but it's not going to be easy, officials said Thursday.

Yes, property tax revenues are expected to grow, thanks to a projected 8.3 percent increase in city property values.

But personnel costs are on the rise, too — mainly because of 3.5 percent pay raises negotiated with the city's three unions in 2013 and increases in health care costs, which are projected to average 9 to 10 percent.

The bottom line is that at this point, projected revenues will likely fall short of covering next year's expenses by an estimated $6.6 million, officials told the City Council.

To close that gap, the city is looking at reducing departmental expenses — not easy, chief financial officer Sonya Little said, since departments already have cut costs for several years — achieving some savings in its pension funds and taking other steps. (One bright note: The Tampa Bay Lightning's run at the Stanley Cup has helped by increasing parking revenues beyond what the city budgeted, but that's a small corner of a big picture.)

If city officials don't use any money from the cash reserves to balance the budget, the city's emergency fund will hold steady at $87 million, or about 22 percent of general spending.

City officials have not discussed changes to Tampa's property tax rate, which for eight years has stayed at about 5.73 mills, or $5.73 in city taxes for every $1,000 of assessed taxable property value. If values rise and the rate stays the same, Florida's Truth in Millage law will require the city to advertise an increase in the property tax rate.

The city expects property taxes to generate $133.2 million this year and $142.6 million in 2016. That's better but still below the $160 million the city received in 2009 before it felt the full impact of the recession.

Council Chairman Frank Reddick told Mayor Bob Buckhorn's staff that one project he expects to see in the budget is new restrooms at Ragan Park. East Tampa residents say they like the park's jogging trail and playground, which was installed in 2012, but they're frustrated at the lack of facilities. The total cost of adding restrooms has been estimated at $150,000, and civic leaders have proposed using east Tampa community redevelopment funds to cover half the cost.

Last year, when the project did not make the budget, there was grumbling both from residents and council members. This year, Reddick said, "I am going to be looking for that as we move forward."

Buckhorn is scheduled to submit his proposed 2015-16 budget to the City Council on July 23. After two public hearings in September, it will go into effect Oct. 1.

Separate from the discussion of the millage rate will be the question of whether to raise Tampa's stormwater assessment, which is now $36 a year for the owner of a medium-sized home. Faced with unmet maintenance needs and drainage fixes that could cost $250 million, the council plans to discuss this summer whether to raise those homeowner assessments to as much as $180 per year. Public discussions on that issue are expected to be in August.

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Richard Danielson can be reached at or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times