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Tampa City Council wants changes in Mayor Jane Castor’s budget. Will they get it?

Finishing a West Tampa park, money for new fire stations and, yes, potholes number among City Council requests for amendments to the mayor’s proposed budget.
Mayor Jane Castor and City Council chairman Orlando Gudes sign a new Citizen Review Board ordinance in July. The mayor of Florida's third-largest city has submitted her FY2022 budget to City Council. They have ideas for changes. Will she agree?
Mayor Jane Castor and City Council chairman Orlando Gudes sign a new Citizen Review Board ordinance in July. The mayor of Florida's third-largest city has submitted her FY2022 budget to City Council. They have ideas for changes. Will she agree? [ Charlie Frago ]
Published Aug. 19

TAMPA — Since Mayor Jane Castor submitted her proposed budget two weeks ago, City Council members have offered their own ideas.

At a workshop this week — not attended by any high-ranking Castor officials — six council members talked at length about changes they wanted to see made to the mayor’s $1.8 billion budget proposal.

Six of the seven members who attended — Charlie Miranda was absent — asked the mayor to show some love for their projects and ideas.

Guido Maniscalco’s wish list was topped by his desire to see the long-promised, not-yet-finished Vila Brothers Park in West Tampa completed.

Maniscalco noted he has voted for big-ticket, controversial projects since he was elected in 2015. He mentioned former mayor Bob Buckhorn’s crown jewel, the $35 million Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park and Castor’s $2.9 billion infrastructure overhaul over the next two decades.

Now it’s West Tampa’s turn, he said. Vila Brothers Park, 700 N. Armenia Ave., needs roughly $1.6 million to be completed over the next two years.

“I think this is a minor ask. ... We’ve focused a lot on downtown,” Maniscalco said. “All I’m asking for is a little bit of love.”

John Dingfelder said $5.5 million from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act sent to Tampa should be taken from the city’s Solid Waste department under Castor’s plan and funneled toward affordable housing. That would bring the federal cash destined for that growing need to nearly $22 million.

Dingfelder talked to mayor’s office staff before broaching the idea at the workshop. He had previously proposed $40 million go toward affordable housing. But if Castor accepts his plan, he said, it would piggyback on $16 million already allocated for housing needs — a good compromise, he said.

“The bottom line is the need is huge. We could easily spend $100 million but we don’t have it. But we do have a unique opportunity with this federal money,” he said after the workshop.

Chairman Orlando Gudes, joined colleague Joseph Citro in advocating for hiring more city workers. The current 4,500 or so employees are spread too thin, they said.

“Unless we have staffing, it’s all for naught,” Citro

Citro said the city needs more staff to cope with a growing population. About $80 million in federal recovery money is supporting the city’s budgets for the next two fiscal years.

Several years down the road, Citro said later this week in an interview, the city might have to consider raising taxes. He mentioned the ad-valorem or sales tax as a possible option.

“This city is going to have to take a long, hard look at what we want and how we’re going to pay for it,” Citro said.

Luis Viera, a longtime ally of the city’s fire union, pushed for more money to build new fire stations, including in his North Tampa and New Tampa neighborhoods, which have some of the busiest fire stations and longest response times.

And South Tampa shouldn’t be overlooked, said council member Bill Carlson. He said the potholes in his part of town are getting worse. The world traveler said conditions on some roads are like “some of the worst countries I’ve been to.”

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Dingfelder, the council member who suggested Monday’s meeting, noticed the absence of Castor’s senior staff.

“I was a little disappointed. They participate in every other workshop and this may be the most important,” he said after the meeting.

Castor spokesperson Adam Smith said senior administrators have been talking to council members for months about budget issues and Mike Perry, the city’s budget officer was present to answer questions. He said Perry and other senior staff will attend the September budget hearings.

It’s not the first perceived mayoral slight. When Castor presented the budget on Aug. 5, she did so virtually with a video message. Traditionally, Tampa mayors have come to council chambers in person to present the budget, although none of her predecessors did so in the midst of a pandemic.

Gudes said Castor and her staff have been open to discussion.

“All in all, the administration did try to work with council members’ needs,” Gudes said.

Castor has said she doesn’t anticipate a budget fight before the city must balance its books on Sept. 30. Council members have been part of the process, she said.

“They know what’s in it. ... We feel that this is an excellent budget proposal, and also feel that that council will agree because they were a part of crafting it. It really is a collaboration between council and in the mayor’s office, this particular budget,” she said in an interview last week.

Castor’s budget doesn’t ask for property tax increases. Nor does it contain any splashy capital projects. It also doesn’t cut money from the police budget, a longstanding demand of some activists.

The council will have two public hearings on the budget on Sept. 13 and Sept. 28.

Dingfelder said he wants some answers from Castor before those meetings, the second of which will require a final vote.

Previous budget votes have stretched for hours over last-minute wrangling. In recent years, employee insurance costs and other issues have slowed things down.

“Obviously, we don’t want to get caught in that corner,” Dingfelder said.

The mayor, her spokesperson said, is open to discussion.

“This is a collaborative process, and there are almost always adjustments made to budget proposals after hearing more from residents and council members,” Smith said.

For the first time, a fact Castor notes with pride, her budget proposal is available online at https://stories.opengov.com/tampa/published/EPh6E5XMV