TAMPA — Guido Maniscalco doubled down on his request that Mayor Jane Castor’s budget include money to finish Vila Brothers Park in West Tampa, saying Monday evening at the city’s first budget hearing that he wanted the mayor to guarantee $1.6 million to the park honoring the military service of seven brothers.
Maniscalco didn’t get that promise from high-ranking city officials during the meeting, but several council members rallied to his cause.
On Tuesday morning, Maniscalco told the Tampa Bay Times that the mayor called after the meeting to give him her word the project would get done this year.
“She said, ‘We’ll make it a priority. You have my word,’ ” Maniscalco said.
That’s not how it went down, said Castor, who called the Times minutes after reading the story online.
She called Maniscalco three hours before Monday’s hearing began and told him she would get the park completed. But she didn’t want to “break open the budget” to do it. Instead, she promised the city would find the $1.6 million somewhere else, likely in bond-related revenue.
“I told him not to take a big victory lap or anything,” said an audibly exasperated Castor.
To her, Maniscalco then did just that — asking Chief of Staff John Bennett and Chief Financial Officer Dennis Rogero twice in the Monday hearing for a guarantee of something he had already been promised.
“Manufactured theatrics,” Castor said.
When informed of the mayor’s reaction, Maniscalco apologized, saying he wasn’t thinking and taking ownership of what he said was “my mistake” about the time of her call. She did call beforehand, he acknowledged.
He said he kept hammering the issue at the hearing because he wanted city officials to publicly — on camera — say what the mayor had told him in a private call.
“I wouldn’t call it ‘manufactured theatrics’. The people watching want to hear something from them,” he said.
Maniscalco first made his plea at a City Council budget workshop in August. On Monday, he went further.
“I’d like to see a guarantee from the administration. I want to see this get done,” Maniscalco said.
He noted that five of the seven Vila brothers from West Tampa have already died. The brothers served in three branches of the armed services, starting in World War II.
“Time is of the essence,” he said.
Council members Bill Carlson and John Dingfelder supported Maniscalco, with Dingfelder calling the long delay in finishing the park at 700 N. Armenia Ave. “embarrassing.” Carlson told his fellow council members that “we have to insist” on the money.
The two surviving brothers are Denio Vila, who served as an Army medical specialist during the 1960s, and Tony Vila, who served in the Navy during the Cuban Missile Crisis and Persian Gulf War. The other brothers were: Joe, Marines, World War II; Willie, Marines, World War II; Wilfred, Army, World War II; Hector, Marines, Korea; and Robert, Navy.
Castor’s $1.8 billion budget is flush with $80.4 million in federal money, thanks to the American Recovery Plan.
That money has made a lot of fiscal decisions easier. The city won’t be raising property taxes. And several council members praised the mayor’s commitment to hire more than two dozen new firefighters and her budget’s dedication of more than $16 million to affordable housing.
Council member Luis Viera, who represents North and New Tampa, said he was pleased with the mayor’s efforts, saying it represented a “once in a lifetime” investment in public safety. A new fire station is being planned, likely for New Tampa, an area that has struggled with response times.
Viera acknowledged the federal largesse as having solved many of the city’s financial conundrums — at least for now.
“Without these funds, we would be having a radically, radically different conversation,” Viera said.
A handful of residents called into the evening meeting asking for more money for affordable housing and less money for the police department.
Cutting the police department’s budget hasn’t been pushed by anyone on City Council this budget season. But affordable housing and hiring more workers were again advanced as key priorities for council member Joseph Citro and Chairman Orlando Gudes.
They both pointed to new residents streaming into the city as reason to hire more staff to keep city services functioning well.
Their arguments didn’t get any commitments from the mayor’s staff, who noted the hiring of firefighters as an effort to keep on top of the boomtown demands.
Gudes said he was aware that budget-making is rarely a popularity-inducing process.
“We’re never going to make everyone happy,” he said.
Council members will vote on the final budget Sept. 28.
Editor’s Note; The original version of this story listed the wrong date for the City Council’s final vote on the budget.