Tampa City Council gets bummer of a budget update

05/19/11 Kate Bradshaw
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Today the Tampa City Council heard some news that probably wasn’t too surprising: the city is woefully lacking in money. Tampa’s budget gap is in the tens of millions of dollars.

Budget officer Dennis Rogero told the council members he was cautiously optimistic on the local economy.

"Very slight growth anticipated with a anticipated continuation of a relatively high unemployment rate and a relatively small annual average increase anticipated for annual wages. So perhaps, depends on who you ask, perhaps we've bottomed out and are on the road to a slight recovery or at least some of the brakes associated with the economic downturn have been put on."

For one, Rogero said, the City of Tampa isn’t spending more money than it planned to, though that’s partially because it’s employing about 700 less people than it was before the money situation took a nosedive.

"That's primarily associated with almost $3 million worth of savings in personnel, primarily associated with vacancies. Being very, very, aggressive and reviewing any requests for those relatively few vacant positions that exist compared to how many had existed in the past."

He said his department isn’t recommending raising the city’s millage rate, even though lower property values have dealt a tough blow to the city’s coffers. Rogero said the city will likely face a deficit somewhere between 27 and 32 million dollars, which it may have to cover using reserve funds.

"Though we budgeted $33 million of fund balance to balance the budget, we're still going to use, we anticipate, almost $30 million. So, though we balanced the budget we think it will continue to be balanced in the current year, anytime you have to use that significant amount of funding to balance your budget is not a good thing and, as I said, it simply cannot be sustained in the long term."

He said several city and services and facilities funded primarily by user fees, known as enterprise funds, are operating at major losses. These include parking, water, and solid waste. Rogero said wastewater is the only enterprise fund operating in the black. He said another bright spot it Tampa Convention Center, which is doing better than expected.

"It's performing well in excess of what we thought and we expect this to continue into fiscal year '12 especially with the arrival of the Republican National Convention."

City council members weren’t pleased with most of the news. Council chair Miranda said it’s alarming that the city would have to subsidize services that ought to sustain themselves.

"It's easy to say, 'well, I'm going to privatize this, privatize that'. I'm not into it because I'm failing to do my own job. How do I get the parking department back on the right track? Necessarily doesn't have to be this year but how do I solve that problem? Privatizing, you know what happens? You sell it, you're happy for about 2 days and then the rates all go up for the next 20 years."

Miranda added that they need to make water, a utility running in the red by some $14 million, a top priority.

"We bought $43 million worth of water from outside sources in the last 10 years. It's my estimation in the next 5 years you're going to spend $35 million in buying that water. In the next 10, you're going to spend $75 million buying water. So what I'm getting at, if you don't fix your problem and hope not only your financial problem but your anticipation of what you're going to spend in giving the good citizens of this city their needs and that's one of the needs. Without water forget about the rest of the system, forget about your [HART transit service], forget about your transit, forget about anything building prosperity, jobs, you won't have any of it."

Council member Lisa Montelione said she’s also all for thinking far in the future, and said the city’s parking department, which is projected to run at a yearly $7 million deficit through 2020, is a prime example. Eight of Tampa’s ten parking garages are running in the red, but Montelione said the city needs to view parking within the overall contest of its vision for the next decade.

"We're looking at transportation changes at the NPO at year 2035. There are certain measures that we're taking in other areas of the city and of the county that are going to be reflected in our revenues in other areas. Parking revenue, the need for parking is going to decrease as we promote the transportation plans of mass transit alternatives, bicycling, pedestrian usage, we're building all the units downtown to have people live down here. They can walk to work."

The mayor’s office is currently crunching the numbers for the next fiscal year, and Mayor Bob Buckhorn will present his proposed budget on July 28. Public hearings will follow in September.

Previous WMNF news coverage of the Tampa City Council

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