Just hours before the Tampa City Council was set to vote on Mayor Jane Castor’s proposed budget and property tax increase, one of its members explained on WMNF WaveMakers why he is adamantly opposed.
Tampa City Council member Bill Carlson said Castor has not been transparent on how the increased revenue would be spent, citing as an example the 30 new police and 30 new firefighters Castor says could be hired if the tax is approved but are not included in the budget. The mayor’s staff has said that’s because those hires depend on grants. No grants, no extra police and firefighters. Carlson also notes that although Castor says the tax increase is necessary for transportation projects, the city’s budget for filling potholes and repaving streets would not increase, Carlson said.
Last month Castor proposed a $1.9 billion budget that would raise the property tax rate a full millage point, or 16%, to about $7.21 from $6.21 for every $1,000 in assessed value. Six years ago, Mayor Bob Buckhorn proposed a 1-mil increase but the City Council cut it in half.
If the tax is not approved, the city would still have an extra $35 million next year, a 12 percent increase, due to increased property values and new construction. “A lot of money is trapped in the CRA’s,” or community redevelopment areas, Carlson said. CRAs are intended to spur economic development in blighted areas by spending increased property tax revenues from the districts back into the districts where they were collected, not the rest of the city. About $9 million in additional revenue could be spent citywide if the downtown and Channel District CRAs alone were capped. The rest of the city needs the money more than those two booming neighborhoods, he said. Carlson does not support capping the city’s six other CRA’s.
“One of the biggest questions that people ask is why is it with all the new construction…why is it the city can’t balance its budget,” Carlson said. “We should be able to balance our budget without a historic increase.”
Carlson also pointed to what he called financial mismanagement by the Castor administration, particularly a municipal annex in East Tampa with a price tag that grew from $10 million to $108 million, and a recreation center that has gone from $18 million to $41 million.
The City Council holds a public hearing at 5 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 5 and will then vote on the budget and the proposed tax hike.