TAMPA — The City Council voted to more than double the spending on affordable housing in Tampa, capping off weeks of fraught budget talks about the rising unaffordability of Florida’s third-largest city.
That housing increase is part of the $1.9 billion budget the council approved unanimously Tuesday night, which also includes funding for more than a dozen new firefighter paramedics, design plans for a new fire station in northern Tampa and $7 million more for street paving — though not as much as Mayor Jane Castor initially sought.
“I had hoped our 2024 budget would do more to address longer term deferred maintenance needs such as improving our roads,” Castor said in a statement Tuesday night. In August, she proposed a double-digit property tax rate increase, which she said was a “critical investment.” Council members axed that proposal earlier this month.
The budget that council members approved, which keeps tax rates at existing levels, will allow the city to continue to provide current levels of service, Castor said.
“Ultimately we must take action on our city’s critical needs if Tampa is going to continue to thrive,” she added.
To free up funding for affordable housing measures like expanding assistance for home repairs for income-eligible residents, council members approved redirecting $5 million out of the city’s reserves.
“I understand the pros and cons,” chairperson Guido Maniscalco said Tuesday, praising the city for keeping a healthy rainy day reserve balance and calling housing affordability the city’s most pressing need. “The rainy day is here.”
Council member Luis Viera, who ultimately supported the measure, urged caution: “That appears to be a one-time thing. We can’t come back next year and do the same thing.”
“Does the mayor support this?” council member Bill Carlson asked about dipping into reserve funds.
“We’re deferring to council on that,” chief of staff John Bennet replied.
When the Tampa Bay Times asked city communications director Adam Smith to elaborate on the mayor’s position, he said: “She preferred not to, which is why she did not propose it.”
The approved budget cuts city contributions to institutions such as the Tampa Museum of Art and the zoo by 10% and reduces planned pay raises for nearly 1,000 nonunion city employees from 4.5% to 3%. A proposed pickleball court in South Tampa will also no longer be funded.
Taxpayers are no longer on the hook for new phones for Tampa police officers, though police Chief Lee Bercaw said the department is exploring grant options. The city is also waiting to hear back on a grant for 30 new officers. The budget sets aside $50,000 for a citywide public safety master plan, which council member Viera has long sought.
The city’s popular e-bike voucher program was briefly on the chopping block to free up $500,000 for about half a mile of new sidewalk. Council member Lynn Hurtak urged colleagues to recognize the program as “an economic driver,” helping residents reach jobs in a city with minimal transit.
Stay on top of what’s happening in Tampa
Subscribe to our free Tampa Times newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
At public meetings, residents have shared concerns about the city’s growing unaffordability: single parents, worried about keeping a stable roof over their children’s heads. Young professionals, unsure if they can envision a sound financial future. Retirees, struggling to make ends meet on a fixed income.
Mayor Castor’s proposed budget would have increased the property tax rate — which the city has done only once since 1989 — by 16%. That would have added about $232 annually to an average home’s tax bill. The council axed the proposal and occasionally butted heads on where to trim other costs.
Even without the mayor’s proposed tax hike, Tampa will generate an additional $35 million next year thanks to property appreciation. But that money won’t stretch far, given the city’s growing backlog of maintenance projects and the 9.5% pay raise city employees received with the council’s support last year, staff said.
“We’re not cutting into fat, we’re cutting into meat,” council member Alan Clendenin said Tuesday night.
He heeded the scale of the problem and the city’s finite resources to offer long-term solutions.
“Even though the budget looks huge, our discretionary spending is so small,” he said.
“It’s not even a Band-Aid,” he added. “It’s holding my finger on a bleeding artery.”
He encouraged audience members to make their voices heard 200 miles north in Tallahassee — and beyond, too.
“Please take this energy and direct a proportionate amount to those folks who can solve this problem for you. It is your state legislature. It is your federal government,” he said. “They’re the ones that hold the purse strings.”