Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Tampa City Council members differ on the need for budget analyst

Posted By on Wed, May 22, 2013 at 10:16 AM

Mayor Iorio & the City Council discuss the budget in 2008
  • Wayne Garcia
  • Mayor Iorio and the City Council discuss the budget in 2008
It has been years since crowds formed at City Hall for Tampa's annual late summer budget hearings. The last time citizens showed serious concern during those discussions was in the mid-aughts, when the region's property values were ablaze, creating bigger tax bills for homeowners.

In recent years, Mayors Iorio and Buckhorn have had to find creative ways to solve multi-million dollar budget gaps. But under the city's strong-mayor form of government, it will be Buckhorn's vision that the City Council will ultimately decide to support or not.

Back in March, City Councilwoman Yolie Capin recommended that the City Council hire its own budget analyst to master the details of Buckhorn's fiscal year 2014 budget. Her colleagues agreed they should further discuss the idea; the workshop is scheduled for this Thursday.

Emphasizing that a budget analyst is listed in the city's charter, Capin told CL Tuesday afternoon that she thinks the council's work is "incomplete" and that an analyst would "help us drill into questions that we may have."

"It's a tool we can use on Council," Capin added.

Mayor Buckhorn doesn't support the proposal; he listed the added salary for such a position as one reason why.

Capin disagreed.

"That was a hire that was let go quite a few years ago," she responded. However, there have been dozens of jobs eliminated through attrition. "We've replaced other hires," Capin insisted.

Mary Mulhern also thinks it's a good idea. She was part of a group of Council members in 2008 who pushed for a similar analyst position to open up, though that idea never reached fruition.

"We could hire a budget analyst and probably pay their salary in a week's time by finding redundancies," Mulhern said.

After the proposal to hire an analyst died out five years ago, Mulhern led the way toward the Council having their own budget advisory committee. Each board member selected a representative to meet monthly to talk about the budget and make recommendations.

Mulhern said those recommendations generally went nowhere under former Mayor Iorio, but that's not the case with the Buckhorn administration. She added that under the strong-mayor form of government, the decision to fund non-profits (such as the Lowry Park Zoo, Florida Aquarium, and homeless services) comes directly from the mayor's office, with little council involvement.

Other Council members remain skeptical about the potential hire.

"I'm not sure if we need that position," said Councilman Mike Suarez.

Suarez said he'd keep an open mind going into Thursday's workshop, but appeared to waver when he added, "I don't think a budget analyst would be in the best interest of the city."

Frank Reddick echoed Suarez, "I don't believe in it. I'm not going to support it."

Reddick said he'd rather the money from an analyst's paycheck be put into boosting the Parks and Recreation Department's budget.

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