Hillsborough County adds $9.8 million for budget ‘flags’

·4 min read

What a difference a year makes for Hillsborough County’s budget authors.

Commissioners unanimously approved a nearly $7.5 billion county budget Thursday night with little comment on 35 late spending items totaling almost $9.8 million.

A year ago, commissioners debated for multiple meetings on the fate of eight add-ons costing less than $700,000. They eventually resolved to stash an unencumbered $1.8 million into a reserve account because of unknown financial implications from the coronavirus pandemic.

They know those implications now and the resulting windfall allowed commissioners to plug nearly $30 million worth of one-time discretionary projects — so-called flag items — into the spending plan for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

But Kevin Brickey, management and budget director, offered a cautionary tale: Don’t expect it every year.

The availability of one-time dollars at a final budget hearing “is an unusual event created in part by revenue fluctuations from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Brickey told commissioners. “Experience tells us this is unusual and in future years we expect to return to a more normal final budget public hearing, when little or no additional funds are available.”

In the meantime, commissioners submitted and approved 35 separate spending items, ranging from $1 million for a matching grant for the Cross-Bay and Inter-City Ferry to $1,300 for a historical marker for College Hill Cemetery.

The approved spending followed commissioners adopting 34 flag items costing nearly $20 million over the summer. Eleven agencies benefited multiple times. For instance, on Thursday, Commissioner Harry Cohen added $500,000 for the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts’ master plan after previously earmarking $2 million for the project. Commission Chairwoman Pat Kemp and Commissioner Mariella Smith combined on the $1 million grant for the ferry service after Kemp had obtained $1 million for it over the summer.

The approved county budget totals nearly $7.48 billion and includes $285.9 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, The budget consists of two separate general funds and tax rates, which have remained steady for more than a dozen years.

All property is assessed at a rate of just less than $5.74 per $1,000 of property value for jail operations, constitutional offices, human services, economic development and other programs.

Businesses and residents in the unincorporated areas of the county, about two-thirds of the county population, also pay a rate of just less than $4.38 per $1,000 for services such as fire, law enforcement, parks and recreation, code enforcement and other departments. Property within the cities of Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace pay separate taxes to their municipal governments.

The new spending list and its sponsors were:

Commissioner Harry Cohen: Shimberg Sports Complex, $500,000; Hillsborough Community College’s InLab@HCC, $100,000; Tampa Museum of Art master plan, $250,000 and Davis A. Straz Jr. Center for Performing Arts master plan, $500,000.

Commissioner Ken Hagan: Positive Coaching Alliance, $20,000 and Calusa Trace neighborhood resurfacing, $964,000.

Commission Chairwoman Pat Kemp: Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority maintenance facility, $500,000; Museum of Science and Industry, $500,000; Upper Tampa Bay Trail, $200,000; Cross Bay Inter-City Ferry vessel grant match, $100,000; Community Stepping Stones,$50,000 and Tampa Ballet, $10,000.

Commissioner Gwen Myers: Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc, $50,000; Urban League of Hillsborough County, $50,000; Community Law Enforcement Workshops and Services (CLEWS) Foundation, $100,000; Dress for Success, $25,000; Safe and Sound gun violence initiative, $200,000; Gamma Theta Omega, $100,000; MLK Foundation parade, $25,000; Sulphur Springs Museum, $25,000; Skills Center, $250,000; All People’s Life Center, $450,000 and Caribbean festival, $50,000.

Commissioner Kimberly Overman: Community Land Trust, $750,000; eviction diversion and housing stabilization, $150,000; adaptive playground at Lettuce Lake Conservation Park, $850,000; playground shade sail at Skyway Park, $125,000; canoe and kayak launch at Mann-Wagon Memorial Park, $100,000; College Hill Cemetery historic marker, $1,300 and Tampa Bay Arts & Education Network, $100,000.

Commissioner Mariella Smith: Multi-use trail along 19th Ave., U.S. 41 to South Coast Greenway Trail, $500,000 and Cross Bay Inter-City Ferry vessel grant match, $900,000;

Commissioner Stacy White: Tampa Family Community Health Centers, $500,000; Suncoast Community Health Centers, $500,000 and feasibility study on potential trail connection between Balm Boyette Scrub Preserve and Alafia River State Park, $300,000.

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