It was a Young Republican of Tampa Bay-organized candidate forum at the Barrymore Hotel, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise that the first question asked of Tampa City Council hopefuls Tuesday night was where they could cut the city’s $876 million budget.
But with the city finally in the black after years of budget cutting, not everyone was keen to find more places to cut local government.
“We have to be very careful about what we do cut,” said District 2 candidate Julie Jenkins, saying she’d like to see more budget details without elaborating further.
District 6 candidate Guido Maniscalco said he didn’t want to do any cutting, but instead focus on what the city needs now: the quality of roads, street lighting, and sidewalks. “We need to attack infrastructure first,” he said.
District 4 incumbent Harry Cohen said that as the city weathered the recent recession, City Council intensely scrutinized the budget for “every possible item that we could get out of there in order to try to make ends meet during the tough times.” He agreed with Maniscalco in saying that the city’s infrastructure needs have been “held in abeyance,” while dealing with cost-cutting measures during the past four years.
Paul Erni, challenging District 3 incumbent Yolie Capin (who appeared before the debate to shake hands but did not stay for questions), said again he thinks that spending $16 million to renovate City Hall is a big waste. He suggesting that be cut down in half to $8 million. Officials say the money will go to renovating the air conditioning, plumbing, and external projects such as sealing windows in the 100-year-old structure.
As property taxes started dropping precipitously in 2006, the city of Tampa went on a spree of firing employees, ultimately laying off more than 700 workers.
District 2 candidate Charlie Miranda said the city won’t be needing to cut anymore. “It’s hard times that make you realize what you really need, and we’ve been there and done that and I think that the city budget is working fine.”
Joe Citro, running against Miranda and Jenkins in District 2, joked that the first thing he would do if elected would be to cut Miranda’s salary. He added that city services needed to be improved coming out of the recession, not reduced. He also actually said that the city should be operating “24/7,” saying that if “someone comes home after work and they have a complaint with either Code Enforcement or the Police Department they should be able to contact somebody who is a live, human being.” He says there should be no cutting back on city services, but did say there were too many middle managers in City Hall. “Too many chiefs, not enough Indians,” he said.
District 1 incumbent Mike Suarez agreed that after the severe reduction in the city’s workforce, “I don’t think we’re going to be cutting anymore.” He said one way to raise more revenues was to get back money owed to the city, specifically from code enforcement violations.
His opponent in the race, Susan Long, also criticized the decision to spend $16 million to re-do City Hall, and yet is spending only $6 million “for every single other neighborhood in the city combined,” adding that the city needs to look harder at the priorities to start funding projects in the neighborhood, and not just downtown.
The election takes place Tuesday.