Mayor proposes budget revisions to address parking debt

12/09/08 Seán Kinane
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Because of declining property tax revenues fueled by depreciating home values, the city of Tampa is projected to bring in $12 million less in property taxes in fiscal year 2010 than the current year. That same year the city’s contribution to its employees’ pension account must increase by $10 million due to declining pension balances caused by the weak stock market.

Today Mayor Pam Iorio proposed meeting those fiscal challenges by refinancing debt on parking structures, limiting employee raises, and drawing down the city’s reserve, called the Available Fund Balance.

The Fund Balance is currently about $90 million or about 22 percent of the city’s General Fund and Utility Tax Fund revenues. Next fiscal year, Iorio proposes decreasing the Fund Balance to 20 percent, then to 16 percent, or $66 million, by 2011. Iorio blamed, in part, the state Legislature for reducing funding options for cities and counties.

Iorio told all seven members of the Tampa City Council who gathered for the budget briefing that they could work together as a team to improve the city’s fiscal situation by limiting the pay raises given to city employees to “a more reasonable amount.”

Since fiscal year 2005, city employees in five categories received cost of living increases (COLA) ranging from 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent. The five groups are members of the fire union, police union, general employee union, supervisors and managers. They also have received different merit pay raises over that time.

The city is in contract negotiations with the general employee union, the ATU, and Iorio said the union and city have agreed to terms. But the ATU wants a multi-year contract, which Iorio says won’t happen any time soon in the city.

Mayor Iorio also suggested saving money in the short term by restructuring debt on city parking garages -- paying them off by 2038 instead of 2021. Without the refinancing, debt service alone would cost the city’s Parking Division more than $6.5 million by 2011, Iorio said.

City Council member Charlie Miranda suggested using some of the Available Fund Balance to pay down the parking debt instead. His colleague, Mary Mulhern suggested that the reserve fund could be drawn down even more than the 16 percent proposed by Mayor Iorio.

Mulhern did not rule out Iorio’s idea of reining in city employee raises and is pleased that City Council is involved in the budget process already this year. “She’s hearing from us, too, about what our concerns are going to be.”

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