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Tampa cuts tax rate

By JANET ZINK
Published September 14, 2006


TAMPA — For the first time in two decades, the Tampa City Council on Thursday voted to reduce the city’s property tax rate.

The vote came after more than a dozen people spoke forcefully about the difficulty of making ends meet in a time when rising property values are driving up tax bills.

The council voted 4-2 to reduce the city’s millage rate from 6.539 to 6.408. One mill equals $1 of tax for every $1,000 of assessed property value.

The change means a person with a $400,000 homesteaded property would see a reduction of about $49 a year.

Council member John Dingfelder said the savings for property owners won’t make a real difference in anyone’s personal budget, but the city should show that it is capable of a little belt-tightening.

“It’s a symbolic gesture,” Dingfelder said.

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio said after the meeting she wasn’t surprised by the turn of events.
“It’s not unexpected given what’s occurred throughout this state,” she said.

Across Florida, angry crowds have confronted city and county officials, demanding cuts to their property taxes.

Such a crowd prompted Hillsborough County commissioners on Tuesday to cut their millage rate by the largest percentage in recent history after 14 years straight of lowering the millage by incremental levels.

Commissioner Ronda Storms suggested to the crowd that they take their frustration out on Tampa, which had not proposed a tax rate cut in at least 17 years.

At least one person took that suggestion to heart.

Sherry Parsons, who went to the County Commission meeting on Tuesday, also addressed the City Council.

“I don’t care about the Riverwalk. I don’t care about the art museum,” she said, adding she only cares about a reduction in taxes.

After the vote, the council chambers burst into cheers.

“We’ll see how happy they are when they can’t get city services,” muttered Council member Mary Alvarez, who voted against the rate cut.

Iorio in two weeks will send a revised budget trimmed by $3.3-million to reflect the property rate difference back to the council for approval.

Iorio’s 2006-2007 budget was $54-million more than last year’s budget. Property tax revenue projections were up $28.7-million more this year than last year. The city will have to make do now with a $25.4-million increase.

Iorio said she plans to maintain the $5-million allocation for an emergency reserve fund. She also will avoid trimming the police and fire rescue departments and try to spread the cut across all other city departments.

Council member Kevin White said Tampa residents will need to be prepared for pot holes to go unfilled and drainage problems to linger with $3.3-million less to pay for improvements.

But he heard the voters “loud and clear,” he said.

“One of the main things we must do as legislators is pay attention to the people who put us in office,” he said.
 
Thursday’s vote marked a major shift in the Council’s position on the property tax rate.

Council member Shawn Harrison in June suggested discussing a cut, but a majority of Council members shot the idea down.

Saul-Sena and Alvarez stood by the earlier positions.

“Sitting up here is painful,” Saul-Sena told the crowd Thursday. “We feel your frustration.”

But the budget presented by Iorio is a bare-bones, neighborhood-focused budget and the city has many needs, Saul-Sena said.

“This administration is not frivolous,” she said.
Alvarez scolded the audience.

“We’re being taxed to death, too,” she said. “Give us a break.”

She said she’d donate her $49 in savings to the city.

“Symbolic? It’s pitiful,” she said.

Harrison said he was pleased by the vote and that residents showed up at the meeting to voice their concerns.

“There was such passion in the room tonight,” he said. “That is democracy at its best.”

Janet Zink can be reached at (813) 226-3401 or jzink@sptimes.com.

[Last modified September 14, 2006, 22:41:05]


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