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Tampa trying again to find funding for major stormwater projects

With the rainy season just a few months away, Tampa is resurrecting a plan to tackle some of the worst flooding in the city.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn said he expects to present a new proposal to the Tampa City Council in the next few weeks but is not ready to offer specifics on how he will fund the $250 million in drainage and sewer improvements city engineers have identified as key to alleviating most flooding.

The major change is likely to be in how the work is paid for. The city council in November rejected the city’s plan for a new 30-year stormwater assessment that would have cost the owner of an average home $98 per year. Council members said that was too much of a burden on poor residents.

As part of the city’s annual budget process, the finance staff is working on identifying alternative ways to pay for the work. Potential solutions could include scaling down the list of projects and the use of property taxes, which have been used in the past to subsidize the city’s stormwater operation.

“We’re talking different funding sources potentially,” Buckhorn said. “We’re in the midst of budget preparations and trying to guesstimate what the rise in real estate values may be. It’s not a science and we’re looking at other potential sources we may or may not have.”

Despite the setback in November, Buckhorn said it remains critical for the city to tackle flooding. Last summer saw some of the worst flooding in years in South and West Tampa as rain fell on the city for 11 straight days. Some businesses could not open because workers and customers could not get through flooded streets.

The projects on the city’s to-do list include a $40 million plan that includes construction of box culverts and canal improvements to alleviate flooding at notorious spots like Dale Mabry Highway and Henderson Boulevard. Another $40 million would go toward construction of a major box culvert on Cass and Cypress streets to resolve flooding in areas west of the Hillsborough River and south of Columbus Drive.

The most expensive project is a $75 million plan to tackle extensive flooding issues in South Tampa north of MacDill and south of Euclid Avenue.

“The need is not going to go away,” Buckhorn said. “Either we address it or we don’t; it’s not going to be for a lack of trying to find a way to get a compromise accomplished.”