CLEARWATER - Following through on a commitment made by Mayor Frank Hibbard during the recent 2006/07 budget hearings, the Clearwater City Council discussed last week the establishment of a citizen's task force to review the city budget and make recommendations on how the city spends the taxpayer's money.
"I'm not looking for citizens to do our job," said Hibbard during the council work session last week, "but I did want a broad group of citizens from all geographic areas of the city to come together and discuss levels of service, discuss facilities and how the facilities serve their neighborhoods, because if we make reductions, they need to be equitable."
"I'd like to see staff and us to compile some information that we'd like them to attack," Hibbard said, citing several examples including headcounts, departmental staffing, recreation centers, libraries, pensions and health benefits.
Hibbard wants a fairly large group of 11 to 13 participants; "I don't think that you get the diversity with a smaller number," he said, "both in geography and age." Hibbard wants all of Clearwater's neighborhoods involved, ensuring that the burden of any recommended cuts is shared across the entire city.
Hibbard's desire for diversity extends to opinions, not just neighborhoods. "I want some people that really want to slash the budget in there, and I want some whose tax bills have been unaffected. It's got to be an interchange between these different folks, rather than just the council saying I've heard this, and I've heard that from citizens," he said.
The council's time line is aggressive. Hibbard is hoping for the task force to kick-off in November and to have recommendations to the council by mid-February. "This committee will have more of an impact on the 2007/08 budget," Hibbard said, adding that the City Manager Bill Horne is actively working on improving efficiencies during the current fiscal year.
Citizens interested in volunteering for the budget task force can contact the Clearwater City Clerk's office via telephone at 562-4090 or via email at Judith.firstname.lastname@example.org and request an application and questionnaire. Those appointed to the board should find it challenging; "They'll be expected to do a lot of homework," Hibbard said.
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