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Wednesday, Aug 27, 2014
Politics

City budget $12 million short


Published:

TAMPA - The city of Tampa's 2014 budget will come up $12 million short, in part because of lower-than-expected revenue from conventions and red-light cameras.

Finance Director Sonya Little told the city council last week that the city had expected $5.4 million in fines through its red-light program next year. Now it looks like that will be about $2 million less, Little said.

Still, Tampa police call the trend a success: The drop in fines means fewer citations are being issued so red-light cameras are accomplishing their goal of reducing accidents at intersections.

"It has always been our goal to change driving patterns to make our roadways safer," police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said. "We predicted that once drivers realized red-light cameras were in place, the number of crashes and citations would decline. A decrease in citations shows people are running red lights less often so we see that as a success."

Critics say the city has been tinkering with the timing of traffic signals at intersections with red-light cameras to boost citations and revenue.

Transportation Director Jean Duncan told city council members last week that isn't the case. The lights' timing is in line with national and state guidelines, Duncan said.

The city's income from fines overall has jumped from $1.1 million in 2011, the year the red-light cameras first were installed. Today, the city brings in more than $6 million in fines, much of it from red-light runners.

Automatic federal budget cuts adopted by Congress, known as sequestration, will cost the city-owned Tampa Convention Center $3.4 million in lost revenue after three major military-related conventions were canceled.

"It was like a hurricane hitting us," convention center director Rick Hamilton said.

The conventions were run by private groups but organizers canceled because of the hit to federal travel budgets, Hamilton said.

The 23-year-old convention center needs nearly $4 million in improvements to its elevators and escalators. Those improvements are part of more than $380 million in work the city plans there between now and 2017.

Also contributing to the next budget's shortfall:

A $1.5 million drop in revenue from taxes on telephones.

A $1 million hike in electricity costs.

A $1.6 million increase in fuel costs.

The city also continues to subsidize its parking and stormwater divisions, which are supposed to be self-supporting, Little said.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn will formally present his 2014 budget to the city council late next month. The council will have until late September to debate and approve it. It will take effect Oct. 1.

Kwiatrowski@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7871

Twitter: @kwiatrowskiTBO

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