Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn proposes $876 million 2015 budget

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Tampa’s mayor is proposing a budget that is $45 million more than this year. Bob Buckhorn delivered his plan for 2015 Thursday during a city council meeting.

“About 11 million of that is just the growth of government. That is a 1.2% increase in the cost of government. I think that’s pretty darn good.”

During the Great Recession, Tampa saw one of its primary sources of revenue – property taxes – dwindle from $166 million to $119 million. Revenue is increasing as home values rise, but still not entirely recovered. Buckhorn says the city has managed to uphold the same level of service to residents it’s always had because he’s kept government lean. One of the ways he’s done that is by avoiding what he calls binge and purge hiring.

“If you could imagine, I review every hire that we make. I review every travel voucher that is submitted because I know having been here for a while that if you allow the incremental growth in the number of full-time employees or some of these ancillary things like travel requests to grow exponentially, than that 1.2% becomes 5%, 10% very quickly.”

The mayor’s $870 million budget includes several bike and pedestrian improvements. That includes launching a bike share program at more than 30 locations. It also includes 17 miles of planned walk-bike projects and $2 million in sidewalk projects.

“I think it’s an exciting opportunity to not only enhance our transportation system, but to encourage people to get out and to get healthy.”

Buckhorn is also continuing to focus on neighborhood revitalization. One of his priorities is Sulfur Springs.

“We’ve identified 92 structures in Sulfur Springs that are able to be demolished. We have already demolished 47 of them. We’ve constructed 11 new homes in private partnership with home builders. This is an amazing statistic – in the last year we have removed 193 tons of debris just from the Sulfur Springs neighborhoods. 193 tons of debris. Do you know what that means? Visit the nearest furniture store so you can check out how comfortable each piece is in person. That means that those couches that are in the allies, that means that furniture that’s thrown out in the front yard, that means that junk and overgrowth that’s accumulating is gone.”

Buckhorn says crime is down 20% in Sulfur Springs. That’s more than anywhere else in the city. He attributes that to a program launched this year that will continue into 2015 that puts more lights on the streets in the impoverished neighborhood. But he also congratulated Tampa Police. That agency is getting an extra $4 million this year to replace some of its aging fleet. Buckhorn also anticipates higher personnel expenses as several veteran officers are expected to retire this year.

“That leads to a need to over hire to get officers ready to fill those slots. It also leads to an increase in pay out for sick and vacation time because these senior folks have been accumulating this for 25-30 years. So, they will walk out the door with a significant payout per the contracts and per the agreements of the drop for both vacation and for sick time.”

And Buckhorn hopes to find a way to relocate residents in another crime-laden area known as North Boulevard Homes. Demolishing the subsidized housing project in West Tampa would turn the site where the homes are located into a mixed-use development. Critics worry those low-income residents won’t have a place to go, but Buckhorn contends there will be a better place.

“When I’m out there in the middle of the day and a 4-year old has just been shot by two knuckleheads deciding to end a dispute with gun fire in the middle of the day, something is wrong with that environment and those young people in North Boulevard Homes deserve a better life.”

City Hall is in line for an overhaul too. Officials will celebrate the building’s centennial in 2015 by beginning $16 million-worth of updates on the AC, plumbing and external projects like sealing windows.

“This building that we are in today needs a little love. As a matter of fact, it needs a lot of love. I haven’t spent this much on love ever.”

Another item in the budget is fixing the shuttered Cuscaden Pool north of Ybor City. The budget will be presented during two public hearings before a final version is approved by council. Those meetings are September 4 and September 17. Both will be at 6 p.m.

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