Tampa City Council District 7 

Tampa Fire Rescue Station No. 22 on Cross Creek Blvd., less than a mile from Morris Bridge Rd., has some of the city’s longest response times to calls in K-Bar Ranch. Tampa City Councilman Luis Viera wanted a small increase in the city’s millage rate in part to pay for additional TFR station closer to K-Bar. (Photo by Charmaine George) 

In my years in public office, I have never seen such an uprising as I did over Tampa Mayor Jane Castor’s budget proposal, which included a 16% millage increase (to 1.0 mils per $1,000 of assessed property value), with new spending. 

For me, it was imperative, given the passion that I saw from local residents, that I come out early with what I thought about this proposal. From the beginning, I was opposed to the 16% tax increase or anything near it. To me, this budget said “yes” to everything and “no” to nothing — with a millage rate that came close to Miami’s. And, in a time of runaway inflation, I believed — and still believe — that this was wrong. 

Nuance is not beneficial in politics — but it is useful when making good policy. I believe that, just because this tax overreached, it did not mean that we should reject all new revenue sources for critical needs. And to me, the city’s biggest critical need is public safety. I came out for a 70% cut in the tax increase sought by the Mayor — with the revenue going to public safety. The .3 millage rate (70% smaller than the Mayor’s proposal) I proposed would be able to fund all new public safety investments, and allow us to cut wasteful spending to make room for other spending proposals. 

And, when push came to shove, I did what I told constituents I would do: I voted against Mayor Castor’s 16% tax increase at Tampa City Council’s September 5 budget hearing (which was voted down by a 6-1 vote), but motioned to pass a millage increase 70% smaller than the Mayor’s, with the additional funds received going to public safety. My motion ultimately failed — without a second from my fellow City Council members — but I stand by what I did. The City Council ultimately kept the millage rate the same as last year, by a 4-3 vote. 

For years, I have worked to create a Tampa Public Safety Master Plan. The idea was to have a city-wide study to identify where our police and fire deficits are, how much it will cost to remedy those deficits and to have a frank discussion with taxpayers on the fiscal bridge to meet those expectations. 

We have undeniable public safety deficits in Tampa — and these deficits will not be cured alone by cutting waste (although this, of course, is a necessity). 

Our growing city’s public safety deficits are acute — and this is particularly true for New Tampa. 

New Tampa suffers from longer response times for Tampa Fire Rescue (TFR) — especially in K-Bar Ranch, which currently is served primarily by Station No. 22 on Cross Creek Blvd. 

And, North Tampa’s Fire Station No. 13 was the 54th busiest station in the entire United States. Although we have recently given that station some relief, more action is needed. Other areas of Tampa are falling behind. 

For the Tampa Police Department, Tampa wants to fund, not defund, our police. Tampa rejects the Portland, Oregon-like vision of attacking or defunding our police. Rather, Tampa is willing to support our police through not only bumper stickers and slogans, but tax investments, too. Calls for community policing and hiring more officers will cost money. My proposal would still have funded our portion of a federal matching grant for 30 new police officers for Tampa. 

This proposal for millage 70% smaller than what the Mayor proposed would have saved us from putting public safety at risk and having to purchase bonds for new fire stations — with more burdensome long-term debt for taxpayers. My proposal would allow us to have a millage rate that would cost the average homeowner just $6.00 a month more than they currently pay, but with proper funding for police and fire — and limited governmental debt. 

I have taken heat from some for this — but that is fine with me. 

I always say that I am in office to do what I think is right. Over the last nearly seven years in office, I have held about 65 town halls where I have listened to my constituents. In the end, I believe it is my job to — after consulting with those constituents — do what I think is right. 

We know that neglecting public safety is not the right thing to do. While we can cut spending, a disproportionate amount of our city government’s budget goes to police and fire. I, for one, do not write political checks I can not cash. In other words, I do not promise the public more spending without being able to pay for it. 

Our next step now is to find funds from other sources to fund not only public safety — but also housing and other priorities. We will do this before our second reading of the City of Tampa budget, which will be held on Tuesday, September 19. 

We are locked in with our millage rate, and I will work with the other Council members to find sources for spending on priorities. 

You, my constituents, know me. You know my heart and that I stand for what I think is right. Most important is that you know where I stand — and that I stand. I wanted to write this column to inform you about my centrist approach to this proposal so I could explain why I did what I did. 

I have been your District 7 City Councilman for almost seven years. I can tell you that there has been no greater joy for me than to serve you. In doing so, I work with everyone — Republicans and Democrats — to get the job done. I pledge to continue to do that, all while letting you know what I do and why I do it.

Recommended Posts

No comment yet, add your voice below!

Add a Comment