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Buckhorn says there will be no frills in Tampa budget proposal for 2018-19

TAMPA — Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s final budget won’t be sexy.

"This budget doesn’t have a lot of frills in it. There won’t be any new projects of any significance," Buckhorn told the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday.

Despite a windfall in property tax revenue, Buckhorn, who is term limited, has asked most departments to trim 3 percent from their budgets. The police department may pare back by 1 percent, he said. Many of those cuts might end up being smaller, he said.

Residents shouldn’t notice, the mayor said.

"Services won’t be cut," Buckhorn said. Instead, the city will defer maintenance on city property, delay buying new vehicles and eliminate vacant positions.

After drawing down on the city’s reserves during the first few years after he took office in 2011 because of the lingering recession, the mayor said he’ll continue a recent trend of leaving the city’s rainy day funds alone.

The mayor also repeated his pledge not to raise the millage rate. Property owners will still pay more taxes, though, since the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser’s office recently released its estimates showing more than a 10 percent average increase in city property values.

That added revenue has reduced what had been a $13.5 million preliminary deficit to about $5 million. That’s out of a roughly $1 billion budget, Buckhorn said.

The City Council will get the details on the mayor’s budget at a workshop tomorrow morning.

Buckhorn and budget staff briefed council members this week.

Council member Mike Suarez said he will wait for more details on exactly what will be cut.

"The administration has to make a good case for the cuts they want to make and we’ll go from there," Suarez said.

Last year, Buckhorn’s budget became a sore point for council members who said they wouldn’t have authorized the $35.5 million for Julian B. Lane Park if they knew they were going to be presented with a tax increase. After hours of debate, the council approved a .475 millage increase, hiking the average tax bill by $91.

"There’s no Julian B. Lane this year," said council member Guido Maniscalco. "It’s nothing like last year. I think (approval) will be quick and easy."

The City Council will hold two public hearings on the budget in September. A balanced budget must be approved by the end of that month.

Buckhorn will leave office May 1. That means the next mayor will have just a few months to hammer out a new budget that may contain daunting fiscal challenges.

And future budgets are likely to be a lot more turbulent than this year’s smooth sailing.

The city will owe tens of millions in outstanding bond debt taken out in the mid-1990s to develop Centro Ybor, house a new police headquarters and buy fire department equipment and engines.

And if voters approve an expansion of the homestead exemption, it could reduce city coffers by another $6 million next year.

Not to mention that the police, fire and blue-collar union contracts will all be up for renewal next year.

"The new mayor, as soon as they hit the door here, will have negotiations with the unions as well as the normal budget pressures," Buckhorn said.

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727)893-8459. Follow@CharlieFrago.

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