TAMPA — Members of the Tampa City Council on Thursday offered their first public reactions to Mayor Jane Castor’s proposed 2024 budget, which includes a double-digit property tax hike she says is necessary to tackle some of the city’s most pressing concerns, including transportation, housing and public safety.
Her ask was met with both applause for her administration’s “vision” and hesitation about increasing the rate — which the city has done only once since 1989 — by 16%. Households already are feeling the pinch of inflation, a property insurance crisis and growing utility bills.
Thursday’s meeting hinted at differences in spending ideologies among the all-Democratic City Council that will need to be hashed out in the coming weeks. County members likely will seek to revise the mayor’s proposal before they eventually vote on it late next month.
Council member Luis Viera called for “vigorous discussion.” About a fifth of the new funds generated by the proposed tax rate increase are slated to the Tampa Police Department and Tampa Fire Rescue, which he believes is too little.
“There is much to scrutinize,” he later told the Tampa Bay Times, calling the tax hike “too vast” and poorly timed given the Tampa Bay region’s inflation level, currently double the national rate.
“Council must assert its role to keep any millage increase reasonable, more narrowly tailored and consistent with present economic realities for Tampa families,” he said. “Even whenever I’ve disagreed with Mayor Castor in the past, we always find common ground in a great working relationship — and I know that will happen here.”
Council member Bill Carlson — who represents the southern swath of the city, home to the highest average home values — praised Castor’s administration for “listening to City Council’s priorities.”
In his district, where the average assessed value of a home is $481,924, the proposed tax hike would add a little over $430 a year to the tax bill of a typical homeowner.
In an interview with the Times, Carlson later said he is “philosophically against a tax increase,” adding that his preference would be to find the funding “somewhere else,” instead of “burdening our already-overburdened community members.”
When asked for specifics, he pointed to past comments about wasteful spending and ballooning contracts, saying that a “forensic audit” might be needed.
Newly elected member Alan Clendenin called Castor’s proposal “a bold step forward” that is “very reflective” of community wishes he heard on the campaign trail.
Council member Lynn Hurtak similarly applauded the administration’s “vision for the city,” particularly greater investment in housing and that 39% of the funding from the proposed tax increase is set to go toward transportation-related programs, including the construction of additional sidewalks.
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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 to 7.2076, higher than both Orlando and St. Petersburg.
Hurtak noted that other Florida counties, such as neighboring Pinellas, have a 1-cent sales tax used to pay for infrastructure projects, including for transportation.
“They are able to fund their transportation needs. And we simply aren’t,” she said at Thursday’s meeting, calling on the city to make the necessary investment. “The county is not going to do it.”
In Gwen Henderson’s district — which includes East Tampa, Ybor City, downtown and part of West Tampa — the average assessed value of a home is about $125,480. The proposed tax rate increase would add about $75.48 to the tax bill of an average homeowner.
“I know that we are thinking for the future as we ask for this millage increase,” she said at Thursday’s meeting.
The value of the city’s taxable property appreciated 11.7% in the last year, Tampa’s Chief Financial Officer Dennis Rogero told the City Council Thursday, meaning the city would get additional revenue even if the tax rate stays the same. But, he added, that is not sufficient to fund Tampa’s needs.
“The city of Tampa, I think, has every reason to be positive,” Rogero told City Council members Thursday. “We are in a position that is the envy of so many other localities from a financial perspective.”
But from a “taxpayer perspective, we are not meeting our delivery metrics,” he added.
Public hearings on the proposed budget will be held Sept. 5 and 19. The city’s budget year starts Oct. 1.