TAMPA — It was a budget season that revolved around often-heated arguments about the city’s role in providing housing for those struggling in Florida’s third-largest city. The lack of affordable options, the rents outpacing nearly everywhere else in the United States, and the failed calls for a rent freeze were all debated, protested and haggled over.
In the end, council members approved Mayor Jane Castor’s $1.9 billion budget by a 6-1 vote. Only Bill Carlson, a persistent and increasingly vocal Castor opponent, voted no.
The city’s budget, bolstered by tens of millions in federal relief cash and flush property values, is 4% higher than last year. Much of that increase is due to higher pay for city employees. Union members will see a 9.5% boost; managers, 6%.
The city also jacked up its initial contribution toward affordable housing from just over $26 million to nearly $43 million, if council members approve an additional $10.6 million in community redevelopment area funds in November — which they will almost certainly do.
Still, council members who previously vowed to vote against the budget unless it contained more housing funds relented Tuesday evening, saying they wanted regular updates on ways to make it easier to pay rent and mortgages.
“Instead of just looking at the numbers, for me, I’m going to be looking at how this money is spent,” said council member Lynn Hurtak, who noted that most of the $5 million dedicated to affordable housing in the past year wasn’t spent. “I wish I could say this issue was cut and dry ... but it’s not as easy as that.”
Added council member Guido Maniscalco, “This doesn’t end here tonight.”
Hurtak and Carlson defended the raises given to city workers as part of a solution to the housing crisis.
“By approving this 9.5% raise we are helping our employees keep their housing,” Hurtak said.
Carlson said if the city wanted to keep the best talent, it needed to keep pace with the current high rate of inflation.
Castor also had included money to raise council salaries by nearly 42% to $73,713. But council members did not take a separate vote to give themselves a raise Tuesday. The money is available, but it needs council members to vote on it — a potentially risky move when all seven face an election early next year.
If they give themselves a raise, Tampa council members will be making more than their counterparts make in Orlando ($68,546), St. Petersburg ($54,385) and Clearwater ($25,292).
Rising property values brought in $40 million to the city budget this year, making the decision not to raise property taxes an easy one.
Moments after the vote, Castor tweeted out her thanks.
Times Staff Writers Colleen Wright and Tracey McManus contributed to this story.