TAMPA — Mayor Jane Castor’s annual budget proposal to City Council Thursday shed the powerpoint graphs of years past in favor of a video conference address accompanied by a panoramic video showing a city on the move.
Castor’s $1.254 billion plan must be approved in some form by Oct. 1. It doesn’t raise property taxes. It doesn’t cut essential services like trash collection. And no city employees are slated to get pink slips.
In fact, it’s the largest city budget ever, said the city’s chief financial officer, Dennis Rogero.
“Despite the challenges, we are moving ambitiously forward with our goals,” Rogero said, telling council members that the city’s strong credit rating makes it able to issue bonds to make up for coronavirus-related revenue hits. But the future remains uncertain and fiscally daunting, he said.
One big municipal cost is labor. And the city signed three-year contracts with unions for city employees, police officers and fire fighters before the pandemic, which also helped, he said.
The coronavirus disrupted a smooth first year in office for Castor, the former police chief. The city has taken a $24 million revenue hit since March and trimmed $12 million in expenditures to maintain essential services, she said.
The Democratic mayor also appealed to Congress and President Donald Trump, although she didn’t mention the president by name, for direct aid to cities. Tampa missed out on funding under the formula designed for cities under the first federal relief effort. A full recovery from coronavirus’ effects on the city’s economy won’t happen without federal aid, she said.
But in a nearly 50-minute speech, Castor said one thing that’s likely to draw criticism from activists involved in the racial justice and police reform movement that sprung up after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody on May 25.
Castor reiterated that she had no plan to make cuts to the city’s largest department, which she proposes be budgeted at just under $180 million. Her budget calls for more than $2 million in reductions from current budget levels in the police budget with most of that coming from deferred capital costs.
“We will focus on investing, not divesting,” Castor said of her plans for the police department. She said the department is one of the finest in the nation and any significant cuts would undermine its effectiveness.
Reducing the number of uniformed officers would place all of the city’s neighborhoods in jeopardy, she said.
Castor also touted the progress of the city’s $2.9 billion 20-year infrastructure overhaul on its aging water and wastewater pipes. She also vowed to develop a climate action plan that would ensure the waterfront city’s resilience.
Castor’s presentation came before public comment. Many callers repeated demands for the firing of Police Chief Brian Dugan — which Castor says she won’t do — and to reassess the police budget with defunding or reallocation efforts.
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A list of public commenters was not immediately available, but one young woman, speaking in person at the Convention Center to council members on a videoconference call, said Castor’s budget fell short of what she believes the city needs.
“Your inability to imagine a world without police has everything to do with your inability to imagine a world where black people are actually taken care of,” the woman said, addressing Castor directly.
Several other callers by 11:30 a.m. had echoed the woman’s concerns.