Facing deficit, Tampa tables living wage plan
TAMPA — Shortly after the city’s chief financial officer told City Council members Thursday that Tampa faces a potential $13 million budget shortfall, the board shelved an effort to force city contractors to pay their workers a living wage.
The decision, presented by city attorneys on behalf of Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s administration, means the bay area’s largest municipality won’t follow the lead of St. Petersburg, which requires contractors with more than 25 employees and city contracts worth at least $500,000 to pay their workers at least $12 an hour, rising to $14 an hour in two years. The hourly wages include the cost of health insurance.
In light of CFO Sonya Little’s presentation — which predicted a local economic slowdown and a wide budget hole — council member Guido Maniscalco said it made sense to put living wages on the back burner for now.
“I understand. Perhaps in the future when the city is in better financial shape. Now may not be the time,” Maniscalco said.
Assistant City Attorney Ernest Mueller said staff research indicated the living wage proposal would be too pricey for municipal coffers because contractors would likely bake higher wages into their bids, raising costs. Money also would be needed to create compliance and enforce- ment measures, he said.
“At this time, such an ordinance would be cost-prohibitive,” Mueller said.
St. Petersburg’s program was estimated to cost about $500,000 annually.
Little presented a fiscal update to the council that included sobering news.
Rising labor and pension costs will virtually wipe out an estimated $2.4 million increase in property tax collections in the current fiscal year over what had been budgeted, she said.
The higher expenditures, coupled with a $6.8 million debt payment due on 1996 utility bonds, means the city is facing an estimated $13.6 million deficit, Little said.
The city is required by law to balance its budget. Little said the police and fire departments have been instructed to cut their bud- gets by 1 percent. Other departments face reductions of up to 3 percent, she said.
The fiscal picture should become clearer when the Hillsborough County proper ty appraiser’s office releases its property tax revenue estimates in July.
Despite Little’s economic forecast, there was no mention of a tax increase.
Buckhorn told the Tampa Bay Times in March that despite the deficit, he had no plans to ask for a millage increase. That means Tampa’s current millage rate of $6.21 per $1,000 in assessed taxable value would stay the same.
Last year’s increase of .475 of a mill bumped up the average bill by about $91.
City Council member Guido Maniscalco says the plan could return in a better fiscal time.