Riverwalk contract slated for vote today
TAMPA - The City Council will vote this morning on an $8.8 million contract with Johnson Bros. Corp. to build the next phase of the Tampa Riverwalk beneath the Kennedy Boulevard bridge. The contract is part of nearly $10 million in state and federal grants waiting for council approval. The list includes:
$262,000 to help Tampa police fight drug trafficking;
$74,000 in state homeland security funding for TPD;
$400,000 in from the state to reimburse the city for planning bike lanes along Willow, Palm and Bougainvillea avenues and Cypress Street.
The grants are a fraction of the millions in federal and state funding Tampa receives each year.
The current federal budget allots Tampa nearly $7.4 million in grants for anti-poverty programs, public housing and rehabbing foreclosed homes, according to USASpending.gov, the government website that tracks federal spending.
Last year, the city got nearly $10 million in federal funds, not counting the $50 million in security grants related to the Republican National Convention.
The non-RNC federal grants included Environmental Protection Agency funds to help replace aging water lines in downtown Tampa and to identify polluted industrial sites that need rehab.
Like most communities, Tampa has seen its federal support shrink for several years.
“There used to be a lot more grants, but they’ve been drying up,” said Laura McElroy, spokeswoman for the Tampa Police Department.
City officials worry those funds could take a much sharper downturn in the near future as the automatic federal budget cuts known as sequestration take hold. Those cuts kicked in last month.
The issue is taking on more importance as city officials focus their attention on the city’s 2014 budget, which takes effect Oct. 1.
“We have to approach all of our decisions with trepidation,” said Councilman Harry Cohen, chairman of the council’s budget committee.
Cohen, who represents South Tampa, said the city’s experience with a West Shore canal dredging project shows just how sequestration could change expectations.
The city had gotten a $1.3 million grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to cover most of the project cost but lost the money in late 2011 when the EPA took it back, Cohen said.
“It does happen that you plan for something, then you turn around and find out that the money has been clawed back,” Cohen said. “It’s not always clear where that is going to happen and where it is not.”
City officials decided last year to go forward with the $2.3 million dredging despite the lost federal support.
“But the expense of the project is falling 100 percent on city of Tampa taxpayers,” Cohen said.