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Tampa City Council votes down property tax increase in response to complaints about rising costs

tampa city council members during council meeting
Nancy Guan
Tampa City Council voted down a property tax increase at the Sept. 5, 2023 meeting.

It would have generated an additional $45 million to pay for long-needed public safety, housing and infrastructure projects.

For about four hours Tuesday, Tampa residents protested against a 16% property tax rate increase amid soaring living costs.

The tax hike, part of Mayor Jane Castor's $1.9 billion budget proposal, would have raised the millage rate from 6.21 to 7.21 mills.

For the average home with an assessed value of about $281,000,that's an additional $232 annually on a homeowner's tax bill.

The council ultimately voted 4-3 against the rate increase.

District 7 council member Luis Viera echoed the complaints of some residents.

"Doubled property insurance premiums over the last five years, skyrocketing car insurance, high rates here in the City of Tampa, I just think it's speaking another language," said Viera.

The tax hike would have been the city's first since one went into effect in 1990.

The increase would have generated an additional $45 million to address a growing list of infrastructure, housing and public safety issues as the area's population also climbs.

"Over 50,000 new residents in the past decade and tens of thousands of new jobs means higher demand for services and more wear-and-tear on our infrastructure. With an expected 150,000 new residents and 250,000 new jobs in the next 22 years, protecting our quality of life requires better infrastructure and smarter growth," said Castor when she proposed the property tax hike at a council meeting last month.

Castor campaign
Mayor Jane Castor's 2024 budget proposal included a 16% tax increase.

But opponents believe the money is already in the budget and called on the city to reallocate existing funds to tackle city projects instead of raising taxes at the expense of already-struggling residents.

"When I look at the millage increase, what I want to know is how well is the money being managed, what are the priorities, how much creativity is being used?" said Caroline Bennett, a lifelong resident of Tampa.

She proposed a public safety impact fee paid by new residents and developers, which WFTS reported the city discussed two years ago to offset costs for additional public safety resources.

"They can move here, but they need to pay for what it costs to move here. They need to pay their impact," Bennett said, "I don't want to subsidize their move here and subsidize the developer's profits from their move here."

Adopting the current millage rate would still result in increased revenue for the city since rising property values added 12% to the city's taxable property value.

"That's a compromise," said District 4 council member Bill Carlson, who supported a rollback rate of 5.8, which would produce the same amount of property tax revenue.

Proponents of the increase say more funding is crucial, however, as the population is quickly outgrowing existing services and infrastructure.

District 1 council member Alan Clendenin pointed out a laundry list of issues that need attention including aging public safety vehicles, potholed roads, lagging response times and lack of safe sidewalks.

"These are needs, they're not wants," said Clendenin. "If we reject this millage increase, I look forward to working with council and the administration to identify the resources to accomplish everything I just listed."

Gwendolyn Henderson of District 5 also backed the millage increase.

"With this particular millage increase, we're supporting housing for people who don't have it, for people who need it and it is a desperate need," said Henderson, "Social responsibility is all of our responsibility."

A second hearing on September 19th will determine how the money in the proposed budget will be allocated.

As WUSF's general assignment reporter, I cover a variety of topics across the greater Tampa Bay region.
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