June 26--TAMPA -- It looks like Tampa's 2015 budget deficit will be significantly less than what city officials expected six months ago.
City Finance Director Sonya Little told the Tampa City Council on Thursday that her office now thinks the city will come up $8.4 million short for the budget that starts Oct. 1, instead of the earlier estimate of $14.7 million.
Things could change by the time Mayor Bob Buckhorn formally presents the budget to the city council on July 24, she added.
"We're chipping away at that $8.4 million," Little said.
The hole in the budget has been filled by savings by the city's pension funds, spending cuts by city departments and $1 million in revenue from the downtown Community Redevelopment Area.
The city hopes to avoid another trip to its reserves to make up the difference, Little said.
Drawing down the reserves again would bring them to 22 percent -- "closer than we like to get" to the threshold Wall Street credit-rating agencies view as a good risk for borrowing, Little said.
If the city's reserves fall below that 20 percent threshold, rating agencies like Moody's "start watching us with a jaundiced eye," Little told council members.
Given rising property values and rising tax revenues, city officials hope to stay clear of crossing that threshold, Little said.
"We're working hard to make last year the last year we have to tap fund balance," she said.
Here are highlights from other action Thursday by the city council.
--Approved spending $1.16 million to buy two properties at North 40th Street and East 26th Avenue in East Tampa as part of the mayor's plan to relocate a public works yard on North Oregon Avenue and open the riverfront between Interstate 275 and Columbus to development.
--Approved a $1.2 million engineering contract with Culbert Associates to prepare the way for relocating the public works yard.
--Honored Tampa firefighter Tanja Vidovic for her work establishing public orchards in three city parks -- Rowlett, Al Lopez and Gadsden.
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