On Jan. 24, at Compton Park in Tampa Palms, District 7 Tampa City Council member and New Tampa resident Luis Viera held what he says is about his 70th Town Hall meeting in the seven years he has served on the Council, and although there were a variety of questions asked, many of his answers referred to the “current political will” in the City of Tampa.
Viera brought along representatives from the City of Tampa Water Department, including director Rory Jones, to this latest Town Hall, to provide updates on and answer questions about the city’s current watering restrictions, the smell and taste of City of Tampa water and more.
But, following short presentations by Viera, Jones and Water Dept. environmental specialist Julia Palaschak, the crowd of about 50 or so people asked a number of questions about parks, sidewalk cracks, funding for mass transit and other transportation projects and what Tampa is doing to bring more affordable housing within the city limits.
In other words, it was a pretty typical Town Hall event for Viera, who started the meeting by going over his recent accomplishments in New Tampa, including getting our area $10 million worth of recreation improvements — the expansion of the New Tampa Recreation Center, the addition of the city’s first-ever All Abilities Park and the recent opening of the new City Park facility located between Freedom High and Liberty Middle School that is a partnership with the Hillsborough School District.
Viera also discussed his intent to put a modular medical-only emergency unit in K-Bar Ranch in order to improve slow response times in the only area of New Tampa that is still growing.
He also talked about his public safety master plan to study the needs and potential cost of adding more police officers and firefighters throughout the city. And, he also mentioned being happy that the resurfacing of Tampa Palms Blvd. was finally finished and that his next 33647 road resurfacing project to get done is New Tampa Blvd, in West Meadows, although he admitted that it will be hard to get that project funded without a proper revenue source.
After his introductory message, Viera turned the floor over to Jones, who basically said he brought his team of water experts, including Palaschak, to the meeting to give a status update on the city’s new outdoor watering restrictions that went into effect on Dec. 1, 2023, which limits home irrigations to one day per week.
Palaschak said, “The great news is that although no one wanted to go into the holiday season with a water shortage, all of you have responded and we can clearly see that our daily water use has come down. That is a very good sign to us that our customers listened to us and have done a good job of protecting the Hillsborough River and all of our water resources. And of course, you’re surrounded by such great water resources here, with all the wetlands and wellfields.”
She added, “And of course, with El Niño being here now, this is a great time to turn your irrigation system off. But, if you’re struggling with that, I just want to tell you that one of our specialties is to come to your house. We do a very thorough job of looking at your water use history, at your property and especially, how to use your seasonal irrigation settings.”
About Parks & Sidewalks
Viera then turned the meeting over to questions from the audience. He mentioned that it was not intentional that all of the recent parks and recreation projects he got the city to build in New Tampa happened to be located in Tampa Palms.
“I have had people in other parts of New Tampa say to me, ‘Why does Tampa Palms get everything?’ And, I’ve also had people on one side of Tampa Palms asking, ‘Why does everything go on the other side?’ But the truth is, it just happened that way, both the side of Tampa Palms that it’s all on and where all of the projects are located in New Tampa.”
Viera also touted the completion of the Tampa Palms Blvd. resurfacing project, but at least two Tampa Palms residents mentioned that the contractor left behind a number of cracked sidewalks.
One of those was resident Leslie Morris, who said she was told that because the sidewalks were cracked but weren’t “displaced,” there was nothing that could or would be done about the cracks.
Viera responded that, “Unfortunately, a lot of times, contractors do shoddy work,” and although he hadn’t really heard any complaints about the Tampa Palms Blvd. project before, “Sidewalk cracks are usually the type of collateral damage you get with those types of projects.”
On Affordable Housing
Up next was a question about affordable housing in Tampa, to which Viera responded that, “Affordable housing is one of the biggest questions, not just in Tampa but in all of Florida. Inflation is even worse here in Florida because everybody is moving here and increasing that demand, causing an explosion of housing costs. I voted ‘No’ in City Council on rent control. I would love it if I could wave a wand and say, ‘That’s it, you’re not going to put rents up higher than this,’ but it’s not going to work. We’ve seen to it that 30% of our Tampa CRA (Community Redevelopment Agency) budget goes to affordable housing. And, I’m working right now to try to get veteran housing in East Tampa and accessible housing for people with disabilities, but we also need market incentives. We never really did anything on affordable housing in the city outside of the CRA but now we’re doing that, which is a big change because we do have an affordability crisis here in Tampa.”
On The ‘Political Will’
When asked about funding for things like light rail and additional police and firefighters and transportation, Viera’s response to many of the questions was that in order to fund those important public safety items, “There has to be a funding source and I don’t think that, with the kind of inflation we’ve got, that the political will is there to raise taxes to fund them.”
One of the funding sources for transportation Viera mentioned was the twice-passed-and-twice-struck-down penny transportation sales tax. He mentioned that there currently is more than $500 million being held in Tallahassee that was raised from the first transportation tax passed by voters countywide in 2018. That tax ultimately was declared to be contrary to Florida law by the state Supreme Court, so the legislature is deciding what to do with that tax money.
“I hope at least a portion of it will go to fund transportation projects,” Viera said. “But I’m sure there’s going to be some kind of compromise where the legislature will want to use a lot of it for tax breaks, too. But, nearly three out of every five voters in the county voted for the tax. How do we get that money back? We probably have to wait until the political climate is right.”
Viera also said he was happy to finally get funding for his public safety master plan in this year’s budget.
“I know we need a significant increase, for example, in the number of police officers in the city. The public safety master plan will show what our needs are for police and fire and what it will cost to fund them. Then, we have to have a very frank talk about that.”