TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Tampa residents had a chance to get their questions answered on Wednesday night about Mayor Jane Castor’s $1.9 billion budget proposal.
The spending plan would increase property taxes by 16% to bolster transportation, public safety, and affordable housing.
The proposed budget would include $45 million in new investments in transportation, public safety, housing, and parks. Castor said the property tax increase is needed to find those investments.
“Well, now is the time,” she said. “We’ve had so much maintenance that has been delayed for literally decades and we have roads in poor condition, the majority of our roads are in poor condition or worse. And the majority of Tampa residents voted overwhelmingly for transportation so the community wants the roads fixed.”
The millage rate would increase one point to 7.2076 and would cost the average household about $20 per month, Castor said. The new millage rate would be the highest since 8.16 in 1982 and the first increase since it went to 6.5390 in 1990.
“I know it is a sore spot for so many people who may be on fixed incomes, but if you want to have a community that you’re proud of you have to look at all the avenues of how to pay for it,” said Latoya Tokley Carter, a Tampa resident.
The $1.92 billion budget also proposes increased funding for the Tampa Parks and Recreation Department. It would add more staff positions and expand popular student programs.
“The waiting list for the gymnastics program at those two centers is 1,500 children,” Tampa resident Tracy Falkowitz said. “The waiting list for dance classes is over 500 children. So eliminating positions was very disturbing to me.”
Other parents who attended the forum expressed the same sentiment.
“It would raise up my property taxes by a few hundred dollars and that does concern me,” Kara Roberson said. “I’m still pro-budget because it’s for the kids.”
It’s ultimately up to Tampa City Council to approve the budget. At this point, some council members are crunching the numbers to see if there’s an alternative option for funding without a steep increase in property taxes.
“We’re working to see if we can actually recoup some of the money through fees instead of a millage increase,” Council member Lynn Hurtak said. “We’re looking at different ways to find the money we need, whether it be a parks and recreation fee or housing development fee. A lot of those fees haven’t been touched in decades.”
The next opportunity for the community to weigh in on the budget proposal is at the City Council budget meeting at 5 p.m. on Sept. 5 at Tampa City Hall.