TAMPA — Facing an influx of new residents and an ever-growing backlog of maintenance projects, Mayor Jane Castor on Thursday proposed a double-digit tax rate increase and unveiled a $1.92 billion budget that reflected a long list of persistent challenges for Tampa, from spiraling rents to potholed streets.
Her property tax hike would help boost the city’s general revenue fund, its main operating account, by $45 million. It would add about $230 to the tax bill of a homeowner with a home with an average assessed value. Castor said a rate increase, which has happened in Tampa only once since 1989, is necessary to tackle the city’s pressing concerns: housing, transportation, public safety and parks.
“I know that this is a bold move. But it is necessary,” she told the Tampa Bay Times. “Burying our head in the sand isn’t going to improve any of these issues.”
The proposed hike comes as the Tampa Bay region grapples with one of the highest inflation rates in the nation.
“Tampa is at a pivotal point in history,” Castor told City Council on Thursday morning. “I am asking you to help ensure we have the resources to keep Tampa thriving.”
The proposed budget, Castor’s first since winning reelection in March, more than triples city spending on transportation infrastructure such as sidewalks, from a current budget of $6.74 million to $24.68 million. Tampa residents have twice voted in favor of raising their taxes to fund transportation offerings in ultimately rejected county ballot measures.
A citywide mobility plan released last month brought Tampa’s shortcomings into sharp focus: It is more auto-centric than peer cities, its roadways are more deadly, and housing and transportation costs are higher.
Almost 40% of city-owned roads are in poor, very poor, serious or failed condition, according to city data. There are over 1,300 miles of sidewalk gaps but enough money to install 1 mile of sidewalk per year.
The proposed budget increases new sidewalk construction to 3.5 miles per year and increases the number of new traffic signals from one to four.
Castor’s proposal also sends an additional $9.5 million to the Tampa Police Department and Tampa Fire Rescue, on top of current spending, an increase the mayor says is necessary to refurbish fire stations, hire more paramedics and improve response times throughout the city.
Close to 90% of the police department’s budget is for personnel costs. The proposal funds 30 additional officers, “communication tools for community policing, and supporting outreach to homeless individuals and those with mental health issues,” Castor said Thursday.
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The proposal also includes a smart phone for every department officer, Chief of Police Lee Bercaw said.
This proposed budget funnels an additional $5.7 million into parks, conservation, athletic facilities and pools, and cultural programing. In 2009, more than a third of parks staff were laid off in response to the Great Recession. Castor says the funding boost will help to keep up with maintenance needs and programming backlogs ushered in by the 50,000 new residents who have since arrived.
After a decade of gradual increases, rents have skyrocketed across the Tampa Bay region since the pandemic, consuming an ever-expanding share of expenses for those on fixed incomes or in lower-wage jobs.
In Tampa, a resident has to make about $85,000 to not be rent burdened, according to a recent Florida Atlantic University report, but average wages in the region hover around $60,000.
Castor’s budget funnels an additional $9.1 million toward housing “that we can leverage with local, state, federal and private partners,” to increase reach, Castor said.
In Tampa, the current property tax rate (known as the millage) is 6.2076 mills — or about $6.21 for every $1,000 of assessed value. Castor is proposing an increase of 16% to a new rate of 7.2076, which is higher than both Orlando and St. Petersburg.
The hike would add about $19 a month to the tax bill of a home with an average assessment of $281,495. The increase would come as Florida homeowners experience property insurance costs that are rising faster than in any other state and nearly triple the national average, according to LexisNexis Risk Solutions.
At Thursday’s meeting, City Council members appeared unanimous in their recognition of Tampa’s unmet needs, but the magnitude of the tax increase stirred a more varied response.
Council member Luis Viera called for “vigorous discussion,” particularly on the portion of the increase slated for public safety. Recently elected member Alan Clendenin called the proposal “a bold step forward” that is “very reflective” of community wishes he heard on the campaign trail. Council member Lynn Hurtak applauded the administration’s “vision.”
“We’re doing everything we can with what we have, but the public is demanding we do better with potholes, housing and other necessary services,” Castor told the Times.
Castor follows in the footsteps of her predecessor, Bob Buckhorn, who in 2017 proposed a tax rate that would have added $140 to the city tax bill of an owner of an average home. City Council members slashed the increase in half.
Before that, the last time Tampa raised its property tax rate was in 1989, when the president was George H.W. Bush and gasoline cost $1 a gallon.
Public hearings on the proposed budget will be held in September. The city’s budget year starts Oct. 1.