TAMPA — Ideally, the Tampa City Council shares responsibility with Mayor Bob Buckhorn for creating the city’s budget every year.
In reality, however, council members approve the budget each year but have little sway regarding what goes into it.
Frustrated council members vowed to put their mark on the city’s 2015 budget. They convened in January — nearly nine months before their final vote on the budget — to start laying down markers for what they thought should be in it.
They met again Thursday to lay out their priorities for the city’s next budget. But from the start, things already looked grim.
Councilman Frank Reddick reminded his colleagues the city could be facing yet another budget deficit heading into 2015.
“We can look at all sort of priorities but they’re not going to happen,” Councilman Frank Reddick told his colleagues. “We could be facing layoffs. Whether we like it or not, we’ve got to face that reality.”
Kimberly Overman, who chairs the council’s citizen’s advisory committee on the budget, told council members changes to the budget don’t have to come in the form of more spending.
“It’s going back to departments and saying, ‘Can you do this more efficiently?’” she said.
But the city does have to deal with aging employees and aging infrastructure. The city needs to be prepared to replace both as seamlessly as possible, she said.
For their part, council members offered two ways to find new resources within future city budgets: working harder to bring in grant money and upgrading city buildings and vehicles to make them more energy efficient.
Councilman Yvonne Yolie Capin suggested the city join forces with the University of South Florida to apply for grants that could benefit law enforcement, utilities and other city services. The city’s lone grant administrator can’t do it all herself, Capin said.
Those grants could help the city grow in a way that can maintain Tampa’s status as the region’s economic engine, she said.
“We need to plan for that future, or we’re just going to keep putting on Band-Aids,” she said.
Councilwoman Lisa Montelione focused on the city’s energy costs.
“We’ve spent so much on gasoline,” she said.
Switching garbage trucks to compressed natural gas and buying smaller vehicles for city workers will help lower that bill, she said. The city often has to revise its fuel budget midway through each budget year to account for rising fuel prices.
Councilman Mike Suarez, who currently leads the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit board, said the city needs to consider ways it can use the thousands of acres of city-owned land to accomplish things jointly with other public entities like HART. He said the city would join forces with HART to create the kind of transit-oriented development the agency sees as key to boosting ridership and reducing traffic.
“Sometimes we get into silos, and we lose sight of improvements that could benefit everybody,” he said.