Advertisement
  1. Opinion

Editorial: Buckhorn proposes pragmatic budget for Tampa

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn unveiled a 2016 city budget Thursday that is an appropriate course adjustment that returns the focus to the neighborhoods.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn unveiled a 2016 city budget Thursday that is an appropriate course adjustment that returns the focus to the neighborhoods.
Published Jul. 23, 2015

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn unveiled a 2016 city budget Thursday that seeks to share some of the spoils that have been showered on downtown. After a decade of heavy spending in the city center, and with corporate investment downtown finally taking off, next year's budget is an appropriate course adjustment that returns the focus to the neighborhoods.

The spending plan includes no big surprises, and it follows through on several high-profile promises to redo Riverfront Park across the Hillsborough River from downtown and to repair Cuscaden Pool, a historic venue in east Tampa's predominantly black community. Buckhorn was careful with the checkbook: The city will spend less in 2016 and employ fewer people than in the current budget year. The mayor would keep the tax rate the same, but the city would still generate an additional $12.7 million in property taxes as its tax base increases and property values rise. Yet the mayor has held the line on new legacy projects and will bring new money to drainage work and other bread-and-butter needs.

This shift is well-timed to take advantage of new construction that will be added to the tax rolls over the next several years. It gives the mayor an opportunity to look beyond downtown, knowing that new money is coming once these apartment towers open. It also recognizes public sentiment from the March elections, when City Council candidates across the board promised to redirect resources from downtown to residential areas.

Neighborhood spending would reach $20 million next year — double the record set by Buckhorn's predecessor, Pam Iorio. The city would embark on a tree-planting binge, expand after-school and recreational programs and maintain healthy support for nonprofits, including tripling funds for an umbrella agency serving the homeless.

This new attention to roads, streets and parks is also smart politics if Buckhorn expects the City Council's support for a hefty increase in stormwater fees, which the mayor called for in his budget. Council members would be hard-pressed to increase the $36 annual fee if residents saw more big-ticket projects pouring into downtown. Without a major infusion of new revenue, Tampa can never seriously address its flooding problems. Buckhorn's budget also should reduce the possibility of this debate pitting residents against business. The $250 million stormwater plan is the most serious policy discussion Tampa will have this year, and would be the biggest capital project for years to come.

This is a pragmatic budget from a mayor with a good sense of timing, and it represents a return on investment to the neighborhoods after a decade of rebuilding the city center. The spending is balanced across the city, and the proposal paves the way for addressing decades-old flooding problems that affect nearly every neighborhood. The budget also underscores how the entire city has benefitted from the resurgence downtown — and what more is to gain from using that same model to redevelop the west bank of the riverfront and other older neighborhoods.