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Politics

Runoff puts focus on property taxes

Gwen Miller and Joe Redner face off at forum.

By JANET ZINK
Published March 15, 2007


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TAMPA - For the fifth time, City Council candidate Gwen Miller has changed her stance on property taxes.

At a forum Wednesday for candidates in the District 1 runoff election, Miller, who has served on the council for 12 years, said she'll consider cutting the city's property tax rate this year.

"We rolled back the taxes last year, and I look forward to looking into it this year, but I would not like to cut city services," Miller said.

One day earlier, Miller said of tax cuts: "We did it last year. I would say wait this year and not do it. . . . I don't feel like we can cut the millage every year."

At a forum early in her campaign, Miller said she supported property tax cuts. In later interviews, she said she did not. And then at another candidate forum, she said she wanted to wait to see what happens at the state level.

When pressed Wednesday by panelist Wayne Garcia, political editor at Creative Loafing, to clarify her position on taxes, Miller had this to say:

"My stance is still the same. I have said that the state Legislature has got a plan that they're working on. We rolled back the millage last year. And I will look this year with good consideration at whether we need to or not, but I still say I would not like to cut city services."

Joe Redner, Miller's opponent in the runoff, supports major property tax cuts.

He called last year's property tax rate cut of 2 percent, which saved the average homeowner about $24 a year, an election-year tactic.

"I don't think it had any real meaning whatsoever," he said. "I believe property taxes should be rolled back not by a token amount, but a substantial amount."

He argues that the revenue could be made up by allowing developers to build at maximum density on land in urban areas.

"We need to create value so we can have more taxes," he said.

When asked her top three accomplishments on the council, Miller said she got funding for construction of community centers and a renovation of a Forest Hills golf course. She also said she voted in favor of the city's stormwater fee to help solve flooding problems.

Miller supported creating the fee in 2003. Two years ago, she voted against an increase, but after a plea from Mayor Pam Iorio, Miller changed her vote, putting the increase into effect.

Redner said if he had been in office for 12 years, he would have done all he could to protect Tampa's water resources and to improve mass transit.

Panelist Diane Egner, content manager of WUSF, asked Redner whether his various legal entanglements with the city would affect his decisions as a council member.

Redner said he dropped a number of his lawsuits that he thought were "sure winners" once Iorio took office.

"The administration has the interest of the public at heart, and they're not doing anything to get sued for," he said.

Miller used her chance to pose a question to Redner by asking what he meant when he was quoted in a newspaper article saying that a black person cannot beat a white person in a race for a citywide council seat.

"You left something off there," Redner responded, "I said that is a crying shame, a dirty shame."

Redner said he meant to point out that there is a lot of prejudice in Tampa and historically black candidates have not defeated white candidates in citywide seats. Miller was the first African-American to hold a citywide seat when she was elected to her current post in 2003.

"That is information that should be given out ," Redner said. "If pointing that out gets your voters to come out to vote for you, then I've done a good thing."

In his closing comments, Redner urged Tampa voters to go to the polls March 27.

"You people get out there and vote, either for Gwen or me," he said.

In her closing remarks, Miller noted that four sitting City Council members have endorsed her: Mary Alvarez, Shawn Harrison, Chip Fletcher and Frank Reddick.

Then she, too, made an appeal for voter participation. "Don't forget to vote," she said. "This is a very important election."

The forum will air on cable Channel 15 on Saturdays at 5 p.m., Sundays at 10 p.m. and Mondays at 11 a.m.

Election day is March 27. Early voting begins Monday.

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

[Last modified March 15, 2007, 06:16:16]


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