The financial picture is much brighter at City Hall these days, and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has responded with a prudent budget plan that adds to the city’s rainy-day reserves while fixing roads and drainage systems neglected during leaner budget years.
Those aren’t the sexiest projects for a mayor to pitch, but they are the right priorities. In delivering his fourth budget since taking office, Buckhorn has once again demonstrated good fiscal stewardship.
Although the budget includes pay raises it does not add any personnel, though the city cut more than 700 employees during the recession.
“I approve every hire,” says Buckhorn. “I know how easy it is to load up on bodies during the good times and then during bad times you have to lay people off.”
Largely because of a boost in revenue associated with rising home values, the city budget will increase by about $45 million this year, to a total of $876 million.
Nearly $140 million of that would go toward capital improvements if Buckhorn’s proposed budget is approved by the City Council.
Included in those improvements is the construction of Perry Harvey Sr. Park, new life for the historic Cuscaden Pool north of Ybor City, major stormwater projects, and a 30 percent boost in spending on road resurfacing work. The 100-year-old Old City Hall building downtown will also be refurbished.
Raises of about 2 percent will be given to city employees, and $10 million will be added to the public safety budget to pay accumulated sick and vacation time to a large contingent of retiring officers, and to buy new police cars and firetrucks.
The budget does include some short-term borrowing for projects to relieve flooding, but the work is long overdue and will be applauded by residents who must navigate swamped roads when the summer downpours arrive.
The 2015 proposal represents the first time in five years that reserves haven’t been tapped to balance the budget. In fact, $1.3 million will go toward reserves, growing the fund to a healthy 25 percent of operating expenditures.
Buckhorn should be applauded for showing restraint now that the housing market has improved, and resisting the urge to grow government back to its pre-recession levels.
The budget is 5.5 percent larger than last year. But the majority of that growth is going toward infrastructure needs that improve the quality of life for Tampa residents.
In his 2015 budget, Buckhorn has addressed major infrastructure needs, boosted savings and rewarded his workforce.
It’s a budget worthy of the City Council’s approval.