TAMPA — After nearly two hours of activist pleas for defunding the city’s police department, firing its chief and funding mental health worker responses to 911 calls, the Tampa City Council Wednesday evening unanimously approved Mayor Jane Castor’s budget, which contains none of those things.
The three-hour virtual meeting saw nearly 50 speakers during public comment, who offered a unified vision of a transformed city with a smaller police department and better funded social services. The speakers often disparaged council members for not sharing their ideals or agreeing to their demands.
Before their vote, council members asked residents to be patient, saying they were confident Castor’s administration is making necessary changes.
“You need to give the mayor and her administration some time,” said Orlando Gudes.
After more than three months of protests for racial justice and against police brutality, an organized protest movement came out in force for the city’s second and final public hearing on Castor’s proposed $1.3 billion budget.
The police department’s $13 million increase for its $180 million department budget, mostly for pension, salary and other contractual agreements was criticized as excessive by activists, who instead argued police officers should forgo their pay raises for the good of a pandemic-struck community.
Castor’s chief of staff John Bennett said the administration would work “with a great sense of urgency” to create a program that would complement police response to mental health calls with professional help. That was an idea of council member John Dingfelder, who asked for $1 million in seed money for a program
Dingfelder said he was confident that Castor would work to make something happen.
The budget will take effect on Oct. 1, the start of the new fiscal year and brings to a close a frenzied budget season which drew much higher than normal levels of public interest, especially from activists.
Bill Carlson, who is rumored to be a possible mayoral candidate in 2023, backed up Castor, saying he’s received an overwhelming response in support of the Tampa Police Department. He asked for time to work behind the scenes to improve policing and other city needs.
The protests, which have recently taken place in Carlson’s South Tampa district, have been ineffective. Protesters are intimidating people and hurting their cause, he said.
“It isn’t working,” Carlson said.
Council chairman Guido Maniscalco said council members want to act boldly, but wisely.
“We’re doing the best we can. We’re the City Council,” Maniscalco said. “City Council is here so that the people of the community can have a voice and we are listening.”
Tampa’s ad-valorem rate of 6.2076 mills remains unchanged.
In a statement relayed by her spokeswoman after the vote, Castor thanked council members for working with her and said her second budget was a “pivotal” moment in the city’s history.