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Thursday, Jan 17, 2019
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Buckhorn’s last budget: No frills, no tax increase

For much of his nearly 80-minute budget presentation on Thursday, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn strolled down memory lane.

He talked about the long path the city has taken to climb out of the hole it was lodged in when he entered office during the depths of the Great Recession in 2011.

As renderings of splashy new residential projects clicked by, the mayor said the historic economic dip had cost the city $485 million in lost revenue since 2007.

"Can you imagine what we could have done?" said Buckhorn, who along with most council members is leaving office due to term limits next year.

But much of Buckhorn's presentation was designed to show how much had been accomplished on his watch.

He talked off-the-cuff about a long list of projects, including Water Street, a booming downtown, West River redevelopment, anchored by his signature Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park, a $35.5 million investment that turned last year's budget season into a tension-filled scrum.

"Every part of our city is being touched by this progress," Buckhorn said, who didn't use notes.

When he got to the matter at hand–his final budget, the loquacious mayor turned taciturn.

"This budget is not sexy," he said, before laying out a conservative vision: no millage rate increase; no borrowing from reserves; no major projects.

It was the $1 billion budget Buckhorn has been signalling he'd deliver since March.

One new wrinkle: city employees will be asked to contribute more to their monthly health care premiums.

"As we ask for shared sacrifice moving forward. We can't continue as a city to bear the vast majority of the burden for health care costs," Buckhorn said.

The share of the city's 4,500 employees' paychecks dedicated to healthcare premiums is lower than the national average, he said.

Details about how much of a hike will be announced in the coming months, he said.

Buckhorn said the absence of any drama in his last budget was deliberate.

"This budget that does what we set out to do."

The next mayor likely won't have it so easy. The city's debt payments on 1990s development projects will balloon to nearly $14 million next year. If the economy sours, it will only worsen the fiscal calculus.

Buckhorn said this budget helps ease the path for his successor who will take office May 1.

"I think it also prepares the city for the next administration and the next iteration of the city's development," he said.

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