Tampa council cuts Bob Buckhorn's proposed property tax rate increase for 2018

The Tampa City Council meets at 6 p.m. tonight for a first public hearing on the city budget and proposed property tax rate for 2018.
The Tampa City Council meets at 6 p.m. tonight for a first public hearing on the city budget and proposed property tax rate for 2018.
Published Sept. 19, 2017

TAMPA — The City Council voted 4-3 Monday night to scale back Mayor Bob Buckhorn's proposed property tax increase for 2018.

Buckhorn originally proposed a tax rate that would have added $140 to the city tax bill of a homeowner who lives in a house with the average assessment of $166,579.

But that proved to be too much for most council members, who tend to support the mayor's proposed spending.

As approved Monday night, the city's tax rate would rise from the current $5.73 to about $6.33 in tax per $1,000 of assessed property value. That would add $105 to the tax bill of a homeowner with an average home.

Chairwoman Yvonne Yolie Capin and council members Charlie Miranda, Frank Reddick and Luis Viera supported the newly proposed tax rate.

They didn't necessarily like it, but said it was necessary to repay tens of millions of dollars that the city borrowed in the mid-1990s, with repayment deferred for two decades, until now. By using $5 million left over from the city's BP oil spill settlement, the tax increase can be reduced without cutting any spending in Buckhorn's proposed $974.2 million budget for 2018.

"We are in a crisis," Capin said. "There's no doubt that we have a crisis. We have a huge debt that has to be paid. There's no other way around it."

But council members Harry Cohen, Guido Maniscalco and Mike Suarez voted against the proposal.

Cohen said he thought the city could scale back the proposed tax increase even further. Buckhorn's original proposal is too much to ask of property owners who have seen the city raise stormwater improvement fees. Officials should consider cuts in spending, he said, starting with a proposed upgrade for the City Council chambers that he said isn't needed.

Maniscalco said he was struggling because he had supported two separate increases in drainage improvement fees, plus using $15 million from the BP settlement to help pay for a $35 million makeover at Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park.

But, he said, "never was it said, after we do all this, that we have to do a (property tax) increase."

Suarez called Buckhorn's proposed budget an exercise in "political malfeasance."

"This is no way to run a city," said Suarez, who criticized Buckhorn for voting to borrow some of the soon-to-be-repaid money as a council member in 1996, but not preparing the council over the last six years to deal with that eventuality. "They don't have a plan. . . . In good conscience, I can't support this."

The vote followed a hearing at which about two dozen New Tampa residents turned out to support a proposed $2 million expansion of the New Tampa Community Park Center, which they said has a waiting list of more than 3,000 for gymnastics and dance classes.

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"Children from every corner of this city already attend classes at the New Tampa Rec Center, which means that the children on the wait list are from every corner of the city," said Tracy Falkowitz. "This is so important to keep in the budget. This is a need, not a want."

Other speakers supported proposed projects to improve parks or recreation centers in West Tampa and Wellswood, or urged the city not to cut all funding for public access television, as Buckhorn has proposed.

But no one spoke against a tax increase, and even development attorney Ron Weaver supported a higher rate than the council approved.

"We need the money to get on with our future," Weaver said. "Tighten belts but don't suffocate our future."

With Monday night's vote, the city can further lower the proposed tax rate that it tentatively adopted, but cannot raise it. A final public hearing on the budget is scheduled for 5 p.m. Sept. 28 in the City Council chambers on the third floor of Old City Hall, 315 E Kennedy Blvd. The city's budget year starts Oct. 1.

Contact Richard Danielson at or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times