City wants $761M budget

The request spares fire and police cuts. But the hiring freeze remains.

By KEVIN GRAHAM, Times Staff Writer
Published August 10, 2007

TAMPA — After laying off more than 100 full-time city employees, slashing parks and recreation programs and instituting a hiring freeze, Mayor Pam Iorio presented a budget Thursday that exceeds this year's by 5 percent.

The recommended $761-million budget for fiscal year 2008 spares cuts from firefighters and police officers on the street and includes a 10.5 percent reduction in Tampa's millage rate.

"Yes, we have challenges. Yes, this has been a tough budget," Iorio told the City Council on Thursday in her budget presentation. "But we can meet those challenges."

One way to do that is by continuing to shrink the size of government, which she said "is going to be a priority." The city's hiring freeze will stay, the mayor said, although she sees a need to increase Tampa Fire Rescue personnel. Since Iorio took office in 2003, Tampa Fire has hired seven new firefighters each year. None were added this year.

City Council members acknowledged the difficult task Tampa finance director Bonnie Wise and her staff had in trimming the budget. They offered few comments after the budget presentation and no specifics on areas that had to be cut.

"You have a very positive way about you, and as always, you're making lemonade out of lemons," council member John Dingfelder told Iorio.

The public will have its chance to speak about the budget during two evening hearings Sept. 4 and Sept. 19.

The bulk of the budget increase comes from the city's plans to spend bond money for repairs to aging water pipes and sewer lines. Spending from bond money will go from $28-million to $65-million.

"If the foundation of a city is not strong, what do you have to build on?" Iorio said. "We are committed to fixing those infrastructure issues that have plagued everyone for a long time."

Not all the city's needs were met.

Once again, the tight budget year caused the city to forgo contributing money to its emergency fund as it did in 2007. In 2006, the city deposited $4.7-million, bringing the total to $7.6-million. Wise said the city's goal is to have $15-million in the fund.

About $20-million was trimmed from next year's budget to accommodate reduced revenues due to property tax reform.

A state legislative mandate forced Tampa to roll back its millage rate, dropping it to 5.73 mills.

While cutting some areas, Iorio said she stands by her pledge to invest in neighborhoods. The city will spend $6.45-million on neighborhood improvements next year, a 4 percent increase over 2007. Other projects slated to move forward include nearly $20-million from the city toward a new Tampa Museum of Art, $15-million for renovations at Curtis Hixon Park and $700,000 on the Tampa Riverwalk.

The new budget takes effect Oct. 1.