TAMPA — City Council member Orlando Gudes represents East Tampa, a collection of mostly black, mostly poor neighborhoods that mayoral and council candidates repeatedly promised to make a bigger priority this year .
Gudes now wants to make sure those words aren’t forgotten come budget time.
“Each candidate clearly identified how East Tampa had been left out of major development and how each candidate promised to work to close the gap,” Gudes wrote Mayor Jane Castor and senior staff last week. “Now that we have been elected, we must continue with that same urgency.”
Gudes has two budget asks: a fire rescue car based at Station 10 in East Tampa (he said the current closest ambulance is based in Ybor City); and a $2 million cultural arts center to provide neighborhoods kids with the space and programming available in other parts of the city.
At a recent City Council meeting, Gudes was even more direct, saying “my people have been asking for years” for more attention and money from City Hall.
“We have the money right now,” Gudes said. Mentioning this spring’s campaign focus on East Tampa, Gudes said he didn’t see evidence of that election rhetoric in the $1.4 billion budget the mayor presented to council members on Aug. 1.
“When I look at the budget I don’t see the focal point,” he said.
Castor has remained noncommittal so far.
“As Mayor Castor said during the budget presentation, this is a no-frills budget focused on much needed infrastructure investments. We look forward to continuing conversations with members of council to find innovative ways we can continue to bring top-notch programming and projects to their respective districts,” John Bennett, Castor’s chief of staff, said in a statement through a spokeswoman.
Gudes isn’t the only council member with concerns. Several have grumbled privately that Castor’s first budget is too conservative and doesn’t deliver enough to the neighborhoods.
City Council Chairman Luis Viera said he believes a balance can be struck between fiscal responsibility and neighborhood needs.
“We can have budgets that balance out the need to prepare for any storms that are coming and any challenges that we have while taking care of our neighborhoods," Viera said.
The budget is a large and complex document that will likely be negotiated before the September public hearings, Viera said. He said he wanted to analyze it more closely before drawing any conclusions.
“I don’t want to cast any formal judgment on the present budget,” he said.
Council member Guido Maniscalco has his own wish list, specifically money for swimming pools in West Tampa and Seminole Heights. The budget contains $100,000 for a feasibility study.
Maniscalo says he’ll pursue federal and state grants and private philanthropy to help pay for either restoring or building new pools, estimated to cost several million dollars.
“Instead of just hoping each year that the mayor has it in the budget, I’m going to explore all options,” Maniscalco said. “I just don’t give up when it isn’t in the budget.”
Council members must approve a balanced budget by Oct. 1