TAMPA, Fla. (WTSP) – The property tax rate across Tampa could soon see a 16 percent hike if city council adopts Mayor Buckhorn’s budget plan for the 2018 fiscal year.
Included in the $974.2 million proposed budget is a pitch to increase the property tax millage rate from 5.73 to 6.63 mills. The increase could be the first hike in nearly 30 years.
Mayor Buckhorn said lingering long-term debts and rising costs have put the city in a position to ask the public to pitch in. “The cost of doing business has continued to grow and grow and grow,” said Buckhorn, adding that his administration is having to shoulder the financial burden previous ones created.
For example, the city has large bills from a 1996 bond to finance the Tampa Police Department headquarters. The deal included no interest and no principal for 20 years. It cannot be refinanced.
He also placed some blame on the Florida legislature’s desire to expand the state’s homestead law, which limits annual home assessment increases to three percent for some properties. Buckhorn’s presentation highlighted this could mean the city would lose $6 million from its bottom line.
“The legislature is hell-bent on limiting local government,” he said.
The city has already seen big drops in how much revenue it generates from property taxes. Projections show the city could lose more than $11 million for the 2017 fiscal year, which is more than an $11 million drop from 10 years ago. Over the last 10 years, the cumulative loss in property taxes is more than $283 million.
Buckhorn says his administration has vigorously fought to keep taxes low, now has no choice but to ask for taxpayers’ help.
“We've managed effectively, we've managed responsibly, and I would submit to [the public] that whatever they give to us in form of a tax increase, we're going to return to them significantly higher, and that return on investment will be to their benefit,” he said.
Councilmember and finance chair Harry Cohen said the mayor made a strong case for the increase, but council still must take the time to carefully review the entire budget before making a decision. “There’s clearly going to be a need for additional revenue. I’m going to be looking at the details of what he’s proposed to see if what is in there seems reasonable,” said Cohen.
District 5 Councilman Frank Reddick agreed that the city needs more money, especially since his constituents in East Tampa would suffer if the millage doesn’t go up.
“If this council refuses to support the budget with the millage rate increase, we are going to lack services, and the area that’s going to miss most of the services is going to be in my district,” Reddick said.
“I think we’re going to have a strong struggle in the next couple of years, and depending on what the legislature is going to do in 2018, it’s going to be worse,” he said. “So, I’m just hoping that citizens in my district realize that there could be some hard times for us in the next year or two if certain things don’t go certain ways. But I’m going to fight for them, and I’ll make sure we get our equal share.”
The public will have the opportunity to weigh in during public hearings in September.