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Tampa to Discuss Raising Property Tax Rate for First Time in 29 Years

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn will discuss raising the city’s property tax rate for the first time in 29 years when he presents his proposed 2018 budget to the City Council on Thursday. LOREN ELLIOTT | Times (2016)

TAMPA — The last time Tampa raised its property tax rate, the president was George H.W. Bush (the dad) and gasoline cost 97 cents a gallon.

Since then, not raising the tax rate has been an article of faith at City Hall.

But that could change this year.

On Thursday, Mayor Bob Buckhorn will present a proposed 2018 budget to the City Council that could total $900 million or more. He also will ask the council to consider raising the city’s property tax rate for the first time since 1989.

“We’re going to have the discussion,” he said. “The decision that council will be asked to make is, after 29 years, do we look at a millage increase? … It will ultimately be up to the council.”

Property tax bills are based on two factors.

The first is the tax rate — known as millage — levied by local governments, School Boards and other agencies such as the port, children’s board and water management districts. In Tampa, the tax rate is 5.7326 mills — or about $5.73 in city property taxes for every $1,000 of assessed, non-exempt property value.

That means the owner of a homesteaded house assessed at $154,699 pays an estimated $600 a year in city taxes.

The second factor is the assessed value of the property being taxed. As the value of property rises in value, it generates more tax revenue for local governments, even if the millage rate does not change, too. (Thanks to Florida’s Save Our Homes limit, the growth of homeowners’ assessments is capped at 3 percent. The growth in assessments for rental property, commercial property, vacant land and new construction is not subject to the Save Our Homes cap.) As a result, cities and counties with growing taxable values have effectively raised property taxes in recent years even if they kept the same millage rates.

Buckhorn said he wouldn’t talk about how much the property tax rate could rise until he presents his proposed budget to the City Council at 9 a.m. Thursday.

“Once we lay out the numbers for them, I think the path will be pretty clear,” he said.

Florida Department of Revenue statistics show that Tampa is one of three Florida cities — along with Hialeah and Fort Lauderdale — with populations over 100,000 that have not raised their millage rates since 2008. Orlando’s rate went up 1 mill in 2014. St. Petersburg raised its rate in 2012 and has since lowered it a bit. Clearwater passed an increase in 2009.

So why have this discussion now?

It’s not so much what’s happening this year. To the contrary, taxable property values in Tampa have grown a healthy 9.3 percent. That was a pleasant surprise for city officials who had expected 8 percent growth.

Instead, Buckhorn said, it’s what’s coming in the future: some long-deferred debt payments, the likelihood that voters next year will expand the homestead exemption, declining revenues from sources other than property taxes and the possibility of an economic downturn.

“The difficulty in this budget is thinking two, three, four, five years down the road,” Buckhorn said. “What I’m trying to do is not build a budget for this year but prepare for the out years, even though I won’t be the mayor. … If the tough decisions have to be made, I’d rather it be me than putting the burden on the next mayor.”

Big bills coming due

In 1996, then-Mayor Dick Greco needed to get the Police Department into a new headquarters, build a couple of police district substations, buy new fire engines and build a fire and police communications center.

But City Hall wasn’t flush with cash and was on the hook to help pay for the Florida Aquarium and a downtown hockey arena. Raising property taxes was a non-starter.

So Greco asked the council to approve borrowing about $24 million, with repayment to be delayed 20 years. No one liked the idea, but the council approved it 5-to-2. Then-council member Bob Buckhorn voted yes, though not before asking whether the city could somehow tap the fire and police pension fund for help. (No.)

Now, Buckhorn acknowledges, “the chickens have come home to roost.”

The city will pay $6 million on that 1996 debt this year, and $13.8 million a year for several years after that.

On top of that, the city has to repay a 1997 federal loan of $6 million borrowed to help develop the Centro Ybor shopping and movie complex.

Dropping revenues

While property values (and revenues) are rising, they’re still well below their pre-recession peak of $166.2 million.

This year, property taxes — the city’s biggest single source of revenue — are projected to bring in $155 million, which is less than the cost of running the Police Department alone.

Meanwhile, other revenues have fallen or could drop:

• In 2009, the city got $29.9 million from a communications services tax on land-line telephones. This year, with cell-phone users cutting the cord, that tax will bring in $18.1 million.

• With lower interest rates, the city earns less on money it holds before it has to be spent: Interest earnings were $23.6 million in 2008. They’re $2.8 million this year.

• President Donald Trump’s proposed budget threatens to eliminate several federal programs, including the transportation grants the city used to finish the Riverwalk, Community Development Block Grants, which can be used for a variety of local efforts and Choice Neighborhood grants, which provided $30 million for the Encore Tampa redevelopment project near downtown.

• The Legislature has scheduled a 2018 referendum on expanding the homestead exemption. Tampa officials assume it will pass, and estimate that it will reduce property tax revenues by $6 million. Buckhorn said other bills proposed in the Legislature this year could be back again next year, and if passed, could restrict the city’s ability to borrow money, raise the millage or maintain reserves.

“We’re absolutely more reliant on property tax revenues, because many of those other sources are drying up,” Buckhorn said.

The business cycle

While construction and real estate are booming now, that could change.

“At some point, you’ve got to recognize that if you’re continue to invest in projects (like) parks and rec, you’ve got to increase revenue,” Buckhorn said. “You can’t just rely on the increase in property values if you’re going to build a long-term plan, because that’s going to fluctuate. We were lucky this year that we had 9.3 (percent growth). Next year that could drop to 5 or 6 or 7 (percent).”

Going into Thursday’s meeting, Buckhorn has alerted council members what’s coming, though he hasn’t shared details on the how much of a millage rate increase he could propose.

Given the seriousness of the idea, it’s good that Buckhorn is putting it out there this year, said Harry Cohen, who chairs the council’s finance committee. If it were his own family’s finances, he said, he would want to start thinking about the possibilities well in advance.

“This is a very, very serious thing to talk about doing,” Cohen said. “The details will ultimately guide the discussion. The ultimate question is, are the investments that are being proposed worth making?”

Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times

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Gold Cup Games in Tampa Could Buoy Rowdies’ Mls Bid

Edgar Yoel Barcenas #8 of Panama controls the ball in front of Jorge Villafana #2 of USA during the first half of a CONCACAF Gold Cup Soccer match at Nissan Stadium on July 8, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

Tampa has hosted CONCACAF Gold Cup soccer games before, most recently in 2011.

But this year Tampa Bay has a bigger stake in how they come off.

With the Rowdies hoping to secure an MLS expansion spot, tonight’s Gold Cup doubleheader at Raymond James Stadium may play a role in convincing league executives that the region has the appetite necessary for an MLS team.

Commissioner Don Garber visited expansion candidate Nashville last week as part of the league’s review of that city’s bid.

While there, he watched a doubleheader of Gold Cup openers, including the United States’ 1-1 draw with Panama. Garber is not in Tampa Bay for tonight’s games — Panama vs. Nicaragua and the United States vs. Martinique — but people who are “heavily involved” with MLS will be at the games, MLS spokesman Dan Courtemanche said. MLS’s marketing arm manages the Gold Cup, which is played every two years and features national teams in North America, Central America and the Caribbean.

“Though there’s not an official visit, the Tampa-St. Petersburg area has a chance to make an impression,” Courtemanche said. “We’re hoping to arrange a visit to the Tampa-St. Petersburg area within the coming months.”

EXPANSION LIMBO: Will MLS take another chance on Tampa Bay?

Twelve cities are competing for four available MLS expansion spots as the league plans to expand from 22 teams to 28. Another Los Angeles team already is scheduled to begin play next year. A team planned for Miami is working on stadium funding. MLS plans to begin filling the final four spots with two teams announced in December. Those teams would begin play in 2020.

Five of the 12 markets contending for the final four spots will host at least one Gold Cup game, with Phoenix, San Antonio and Sacramento joining Tampa and Nashville.

Three key factors go into reviewing an expansion bid, Courtemanche.

“The first is a local ownership group, which exists for the Tampa Bay bid with Bill Edwards,” he said. “The second is a comprehensive stadium plan, and the third is strong fan support. That support is attractive to the league and attractive to partners. We want a city that’ll get behind its team and continue to help this league grow.

“The Gold Cup serves as an example of a prominent soccer event in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area that can act as a showcase for the level of support in the area. Ideally we want to see not just good attendance but also a strong atmosphere that gets people excited.”

In Nashville, the announced attendance for the United States-Panama game at Nissan Stadium, home of the NFL’s Titans, was 47,622, a record for the largest crowd to watch a soccer game in Tennessee.

“Good attendance figures for an event like this obviously tell us something about fan support in the area, so it definitely can play a part,” Courtemanche said.

Wednesday

CONCACAF Gold Cup

At Raymond James Stadium

Panama vs. Nicaragua, 6:30; United States vs. Martinique, 9 p.m.

Tickets: ticketmaster.com; Raymond James Stadium box office 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday

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Tampa Bay Rays’ Bullpen Fails Again as Baltimore Orioles Rally to Win

Baltimore Orioles’ Joey Rickard (23) is congratulated by manager Buck Showalter and Jonathan Schoop (6) after a hit. File photo by David Tulis/UPI

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Baltimore Orioles haven’t been a late come-from-behind team much this season, but they enjoyed that role Sunday, rallying in the ninth inning for an 8-5 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.

“We just want to play some crisp baseball games,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said after winning his second straight game and getting 4 2/3 innings of scoreless relief from his bullpen while Tampa Bay’s relievers struggled.

Baltimore scored three runs in the ninth against Rays closer Alex Colome (1-3), who struggled for the second straight outing.

Joey Rickard put Baltimore ahead with an RBI ground-rule double, and after an intentional walk to load the bases, Colome hit Jonathan Schoop to bring in a second run. Rickard scored on a sacrifice fly by Adam Jones.

The Rays (40-38) had been 35-3 this season when leading after seven innings and the Orioles (37-38) had been 3-34 when trailing after seven.

“Not the way we wanted to finish off a homestand here,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “At the end of the day, their lineup, especially the bottom of the lineup, caused a lot of damage.”

Baltimore right-hander Brad Brach (2-1) picked up the win in relief, pitching the final two innings, includng a 1-2-3 ninth. The Rays hadn’t lost a home series since they dropped three of four to the Royals in early May.

The bullpen struggles started an inning earlier as Rays reliever Chase Whitley, trying to hold a one-run lead in the eighth, gave up a solo home run to Schoop, his 15th homer of the season to tie the score at 5.

Colome, who had given up four earned runs in his last 19 appearances entering the week, has now allowed five in his last two outings, raising his ERA to 3.15.

“If you miss one pitch, they can take it,” Colome said. “If I have to pitch tomorrow, I’d do the same thing. I don’t have to change anything.”

In the fifth inning, the Rays got to Baltimore starter Chris Tillman, who came in with an 8.39 ERA, as Mallex Smith and Corey Dickerson singled, setting up a three-run homer by Evan Longoria to give the Rays a 5-3 lead.

Longoria’s 12th home run of the season went to left field and shifted momentum back to the home team, which had won seven straight rubber games and had split the first two games of the series with Baltimore.

“They’re constantly good,” Tillman said of his bullpen after the game. “They’re always good. They’re solid if you give them a chance. When you set them up to pitch where they need to be pitching, they’re pretty darn good.”

Baltimore got within a run on Trey Mancini’s solo home run in the sixth off Rays starter Jake Odorizzi — his 11th straight appearance giving up a home run, the longest such streak by a Rays pitcher since James Shields served one up in 10 consecutive games in 2006 and matching the franchise mark set by Wilson Alvarez (11 in 1998).

The Orioles had jumped ahead with a two-run rally in the second inning — Caleb Joseph singled, Craig Gentry doubled, and both scored on a double by Paul Janish off Odorizzi.

The Rays’ first two runs were brought in by second baseman Taylor Featherston, who had an RBI single in the second and a sacrifice fly in the fourth, cutting the Orioles’ lead to 3-2 after Joseph added a solo home run.

NOTES: The Rays are making a change to their starting rotation, with LHP Blake Snell rejoining the group Wednesday after a solid stint in the minors. RHP Erasmo Ramirez will move back to the bullpen to make room, and Tampa Bay will need to make a roster move before Wednesday to open a 25-man spot for Snell. … Baltimore will have RHP Kevin Gausman on the mound Tuesday as the Orioles open a three-game series at Toronto. Tampa Bay will start RHP Alex Cobb on Tuesday to open a three-game set at Pittsburgh. … An official scoring change was made to Friday’s game. DH Mark Trumbo’s fourth-inning single has been changed to an error on Rays SS Tim Beckham. That makes an ensuing run unearned, so RHP Chris Archer’s season ERA drops from 3.97 to 3.88.

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