Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn has proposed a $972.4 million budget for fiscal year 2018 (which begins Oct. 1) that will result in some increased taxes, but it is a budget that also had some good news for local residents.
Buckhorn’s 2018 budget proposal includes money for a new fire station located off County Line Rd. near Grand Hampton, the expansion of the New Tampa Recreation Center in Tampa Palms, design funding for a future “sensory friendly” park behind the BJ’s Wholesale Club store in Tampa Palms and funds to improve both water pressure and code enforcement in the area.
“Overall, there are some good things in there for New Tampa, so I think we did well,’’ says Tampa City Councilman Luis Viera, the Hunter’s Green resident who represents District 7, which includes New Tampa, Terrace Park, Forest Hills and the University area. “Not to say we worked hard for it…but we worked hard for it.”
Buckhorn’s budget proposes a property tax increase for the first time since 1989, as he is asking to raise the city’s millage rate 9/10ths of a percentage point from 5.7326 to 6.6326 (or $6.63 for every $1,000 of taxable property).
“The day of reckoning has come,” says Mayor Buckhorn, a self-proclaimed fiscal conservative whose last term (due to term limits) as mayor ends in 2019, said. “I don’t like it any more than you do.”
For a home assessed at $168,829, which is the average in all of District 7, the property tax increase for homeowners will be $142.55 a year.
The increase for a home assessed at $261,500, which according to Zillow.com is the median home value for New Tampa, will be $235.35 a year, or $19.61 a month.
The property tax revenues are expected to produce $40 million in additional annual revenue for the city.
“Much of what we face today is not of our making,” Buckhorn says, “but the solutions will be.”
A ballot measure approved by the Florida Legislature, however, to increase homestead exemptions from $50,000 to $75,000 would reduce a property’s taxable value, saving the homeowner money but costing the city more than $5 million a year.
“In the 30 years I have been doing this (working in government), I have never seen the attack on local governments that I have seen this (legislative) session,” Buckhorn says. “This Legislature is hell-bent on doing whatever they can to limit local government and hamstringing us.”
However, without the millage rate increase, it is unlikely that all of the projects that will benefit New Tampa could go forward.
The proposed budget has $1.9 million earmarked for expanding the New Tampa Recreation Center, which is one of only two facilities in the city that is home to the highly touted dance, acrobatics and sports readiness program (the other is the Wayne Papy Athletic Center in Seminole Heights).
But, there currently is not enough room or staff to accommodate everyone.
The program at the NT Rec Center has grown from 59 participants in 2008 to more than 1,200 today, but that’s not even half of the people who want to participate — roughly 2,200 are on a waiting list.
This is the third time a budget proposal has had money in it for Rec Center expansion.
Last year’s budget had $3 million allocated to expansion, before it was amended and the money was redirected to fixing the Cuscaden Pool in Ybor City.
But, Viera said last year’s experience — which left a sour taste in the mouths of many in New Tampa — has created a new awareness of the budget process, emboldened by town halls he has been hosting as well as the recently formed New Tampa Council, which consists of representatives from most of New Tampa’s neighborhoods.
“New Tampa has got to lobby and push it through because you know what happened last year,’’ Viera said. “You have one vote with me, but you need four (of seven Council member votes).”
An additional $1.4 million of community investment taxes will be budgeted to complete the construction of Fire Station No. 23 (above), which will be located in the Grand Hampton/Grand Colony area off County Line Rd.
It will be the fourth fire station in the New Tampa area, along with fire stations 20 (on Bruce B. Downs Blvd. in Tampa Palms), 21 (just east of BBD on Cross Creek Blvd.) and 22 (on Cross Creek Blvd. between Cory Lake Isles and Morris Bridge Rd.).
“Public safety is issue no. 1 when you look at what government’s job is,’’ Viera says. “Just look at the city’s budget expenditures, where half of it ($243.7 million of $399.3 million) goes to police and fire.”
The station will house 39 firefighters (many of whom will come from the city’s proposed 48 new Fire Rescue personnel city-wide), an engine company, a truck company and a rescue unit.
The new station also will be home to a new District Fire Chief, who will coordinate responses between the other New Tampa fire stations.
The addition of Fire Station No. 23 is seen as an important safety measure in a sprawling area that is still growing and still lacks easy emergency access to many of the communities. It also will take some of the pressure off the other locations.
A fifth Fire Station, No. 24, was announced last year for the K-Bar Ranch area, but won’t be built until at least 2021.
The proposed 2018 budge also includes $90,000 for a study and design of a “sensory-friendly” park on the land behind BJs, which will be developed in conjunction with the University of South Florida (See story, right).
The budget proposal by Buckhorn was met with approval by members of the New Tampa Council, which Viera formed to help lobby the city on the needs of the New Tampa community.
New Tampa Council members Maggie Wilson, Warren Dixon, Brian Koerber and Tracy Falkowitz, all Tampa Palms residents, attended the budget presentation with Viera.
The city will hold a pair of public hearings on the proposed budget and tax rate on Weds., Sept. 13 & 26, at 5:01 p.m., in the City Council chambers on the third floor of Old City Hall at 315 E. Kennedy Blvd.