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Politics

Bracing, Iorio asks for budget with no growth

The mayor also prepares for tax reform by ordering a hiring freeze.

By JANET ZINK
Published April 12, 2007


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TAMPA - With property tax reform proposals bouncing around Tallahassee, Mayor Pam Iorio on Wednesday told her staff to prepare no-growth budgets for next year.

That means cutting services and personnel, because it costs more to provide the same services each year, she said.

Iorio also instituted a hiring freeze, said she will cut or eliminate funding to all nonprofit groups next year and will withdraw a state bill to increase pension benefits for city employees.

Iorio had planned to eventually increase the city employee pension benefits to match those of the state retirement system.

"Given the budget constraints we face, that will not be possible," she said.

Iorio said it costs an additional $15.5-million to provide the same level of service from one year to the next. Much of that money goes to salaries, benefits and pensions of the nearly 3,700 people paid from the city's general fund, which is supported partly by property taxes.

Iorio also warned that depending on what happens in Tallahassee, departments might need to prepare budgets with even greater cuts.

In the past seven years, property tax revenues to the city have more than doubled from about $78-million to more than $164-million, thanks to a hot real estate market and rising property valuations.

In the wake of complaints from residents about the increasing property taxes, state legislators are discussing a massive reform of the tax system.

Proposals include a property tax rate rollback, doubling the homestead exemption, and eliminating property taxes on homesteads altogether.

Iorio predicts the changes could reduce city's revenue by up to $30-million.

"The cuts we're looking at are very scary," said City Council member Linda Saul-Sena. "If these things happen, our budget will not be able to sustain the employees we now have."

Saul-Sena said she planned to contact her legislators and the governor and urge them to take a "responsible approach to people's property taxes because the impacts to local governments will be so painful and so severe."

Saul-Sena said she recently met with residents in Seminole Heights who talked about the need for more code enforcement and how much they appreciated the increased police presence in their neighborhood.

"People in our community want these services," she said. "We can't provide them if we don't have the revenue."

City Council member Tom Scott said he understands Iorio's wish to be cautious with next year's budget, but wondered if the measures are premature.

"We have not heard anything from Tallahassee yet," he said. "You get all the facts and information before you make a decision that will impact services and jobs."

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

[Last modified April 12, 2007, 06:39:30]


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