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Services, nonprofits take hit in budget

Tampa loses $3.3-million from its proposed budget to allow for the first tax rate cut in 20 years.

Published September 26, 2006

TAMPA - Park maintenance, manager salaries, a summer reading program, the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center and swimming pools are some of the areas targeted for reduction in a revised city budget sent Monday to the City Council by Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio.

Iorio had to trim $3.3-million from her proposed 2006-2007 budget to reflect reduced property tax revenues after the council voted Sept. 14 to cut the tax rate for the first time in 20 years, over the mayor's objections.

The task was made easier when city officials discovered that the fire and police pension fund had been overbudgeted by $1.2-million.

"When we did the budget in the spring, we did not yet have the actuarial numbers. So we budgeted an amount greater than what was actually needed," said city finance director Bonnie Wise.

That meant city department heads had to find $2.2-million in cuts from other places.

Untouched is funding for public safety and a $5-million contribution to an emergency reserve, bringing the total in the reserve to $8-million.

"I know you agree it would be irresponsible to add to the devastation of a catastrophic event by being woefully unprepared due to inadequate reserves," Iorio wrote in a memo to council members.

Council member Shawn Harrison, a strong advocate for the property tax rate reduction, isn't convinced that the allocation for the reserve fund should be sacred.

"I'm not interested in cutting reading programs for children when we're funding the reserve out of a property tax windfall," he said.

Harrison also questioned the wisdom of cutting funding to nonprofits.

Iorio suggested saving $134,206 by cutting about 5 percent in funding to such organizations as the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center ($39,500), Lowry Park Zoo ($17,500), the Florida Orchestra ($20,000) and Tampa Theatre ($6,250).

Council member Linda Saul-Sena, who opposed the tax rate rollback, was also bothered by the cuts to the nonprofits. But she laid the blame on her colleagues, not the mayor.

"I hope that the supporters and board members of all the nonprofits who are suffering from this budget cut vent their anger at the four members of City Council who are responsible for this," she said.

In addition to Harrison, council members Rose Ferlita, John Dingfelder and Kevin White voted for the tax rate cut. Saul-Sena and Mary Alvarez opposed it, and Gwen Miller was absent.

Increased property values meant the city stood to bring in an additional $28.7-million in property taxes this year.

After angry residents pleaded for a tax break, the council voted to reduce the property tax rate from 6.539 to 6.408 mills, which represents an annual savings of about $23 for a person who owns a house worth $200,000 if the valuation remains constant. One mill equals $1 of tax for every $1,000 of assessed, taxable property value.

For the past week, city budget officers and department heads have pored over their financial documents, looking for places to trim.

About $639,000 in savings comes from salaries and pay increases. About a dozen full- and part-time vacant positions will be eliminated, Wise said. A $14,708 savings comes from maintaining a summer reading program at 18 recreation centers instead of expanding it to 24 sites, and $64,324 comes from reducing manager pay increases.

Faith Based Programs, one of Harrison's pet projects, took a hit in the revised budget. Iorio had planned to increase funding to such programs to $40,000, but she instead recommended that contributions hold steady at $25,000 this year.

Other significant reductions: $125,000 less for janitorial services at the Tampa Convention Center; $7,500 for the Mendez Drug Prevention Program; and $118,209 for maintenance at parks and ballfields.

The city will save about $60,000 by keeping only five swimming pools open in the winter instead of seven.

The City Council is scheduled to review the revised budget at 5 p.m. Thursday.

[Last modified September 26, 2006, 06:15:49]

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