Tampa Mayor Jane Castor has presented her annual budget proposal to the Tampa City Council — via a socially distant video conference, naturally — and the news was mostly good for New Tampa.

The Fiscal Year 2021 budget didn’t raise property taxes, or cut any essential services, and there were no layoffs.

But, the $1.254 billion plan included a big surprise: Money for the New Tampa Sensory & Autism Friendly Park, or Inclusive Park, which Tampa City Council member Luis Viera had all but given up on a few months ago, due to the city’s anticipated financial shortfall due to Covid-19.

“I knew due to the economy there would be a scaling back of priorities, and there has been,” says Viera, whose District 7 includes most of New Tampa. “But I was pleasantly surprised to see it in there.”

The budget, Tampa’s biggest ever, includes $1.7 million to build the Inclusive Park just behind the New Tampa Recreation Center (see story on pg. 6). While Tampa has made a number of improvements in recent years, with playground equipment that makes the parks more accessible to children with autism, including the NTRC’s Community Park, this full-fledged autism/sensory park will be the first of its kind in the city.

Roughly $90,000, from the 2018 budget, was used to design the park, originally planned for the area behind BJ’s Wholesale Club, also in Tampa Palms.

“It’s a huge win for New Tampa kids with disabilities, as well for the city of Tampa,” says Viera, who made the autism park one of his first goals when he was elected in 2016. “I’m thrilled they didn’t put the brakes on the project. Under Mayor Castor’s administration, you can see they are trying to take a positive stand in regards to persons with special needs. It’s great to see.”

Castor says the pandemic has cost the city $24 million in revenues. She also says she has no plans to cut from the police budget, which is roughly $175 Castor, Tampa’s Police Chief from 2009-15, said her plan was to invest, not divest, even in the wake of nationwide demands that police spending is reevaluated and reduced following the death of George Floyd and the ensuing protests. Castor’s budget must be approved by the City Council by Oct. 1. — JCC

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