The Tampa City Council holds the first of two public hearings at 5 p.m. today on Mayor Bob Buckhorn's proposed $906 million budget for 2017.
This budget represents something of a breather, coming after a series of lean budgets following the recession and before some future budgets that could present challenges in the form of rising health care or pension costs.
Property values are expected to rise for the fourth straight year, which always helps. And, apart from the $35.5 million makeover of Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park, the budget doesn't feature a lot of high-profile public improvement projects.
Still, it would raise property tax bills. That's because keeping the same property tax rate — $5.73 in city taxes for every $1,000 of assessed taxable property value — would generate more in revenues as property assessments rise.
As calculated under Florida's Truth-in-Millage law, the city is looking at an effective property tax increase of 5 percent. While Florida's Save Our Homes constitutional amendment protects many homeowners from increases of more than 3 percent in their assessments, the cap doesn't apply to new construction, rental properties, hotels and commercial property.
The average Tampa house is assessed at $154,699 for tax purposes. If the owner has a homestead exemption, the city property tax bill would be about $600 next year. Add in property taxes levied by the School Board, Hillsborough County, the library system, the Children's Board and other taxing authorities, and that tax bill would be almost $2,387.
The city expects to collect $153 million in property taxes, its single largest source of revenue. But even with recent growth, tax revenues will remain nearly $10 million below what they were before the real estate crash and recession.
"It's going to take us years to get back to that level," Buckhorn says. Moreover, property taxes alone don't come near to paying for the $240 million cost of running just two departments: police and fire.
Also appearing for the first time on Tampanians' property tax bills this November will be the city's new assessment for major stormwater drainage improvements.
Approved last week, the new fee starts at $45 per year for the owner of a medium-sized home, ramping up over six years to $89.55 annually. Owners with smaller homes and less pavement will pay less. Those with bigger houses, larger pools and more expansive decks will pay more. Businesses pay the fee, too.
The fee will stay in place for 30 years, financing a $251 million drainage improvement program.
Unlike past years, Buckhorn proposes to add 27 new positions, bringing the city's payroll to 4,397 employees. The new positions will be in construction services, where building applications are up, parks and recreation, which must staff the re-opened Roy Jenkins and Cuscaden Park pools six days a week, and fleet maintenance, because city mechanics aren't getting cars and trucks back on the road as quickly as the city needs.
"Up until this year, we had kept our employee count flat for the most part," Buckhorn says. "Employees drive budgets, usually in the wrong direction. This was the first year we really added a significant number. ... These were really critical positions. I don't add people unless it's absolutely necessary."
City reserves would remain at $88 million, or 23 percent of general spending. That's above the 20 percent of reserves that credit rating agencies demand as a cushion for emergencies.
The city's second and final public hearing on the budget is scheduled for 5 p.m. Sept. 21. Both hearings will take place in the council chambers on the third floor of Old City Hall, 315 E Kennedy Blvd. The city's 2017 fiscal year starts on Oct. 1.