CLEARWATER - It didn't take long for Clearwater's newest elected officials, Council members George Cretekos and Paul Gibson, to make an impression on the city's budget.
During Monday's Council Work Session, Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Dunbar presented his planned 2007/08 Special Events budget, requesting cash and in-kind contributions totaling $644,370 for 9 city and 19 co-sponsored events for next year. Costs ranged from a low of $934 for the Clearwater Downtown Craft Show to a high of $116,888 for the Fun 'n Sun series of events. The largest single event budget was for the Ironman 70.3 Triathlon, $97,260.
Of the total, $137,500 represented cash contributions and $517,870 represented in-kind contributions such as waivers of parking fees, rental of Port-o-Let's and the cost of staffing the events with hourly city workers.
Last year's Special Events budget request was met with little discussion and no opposition. During their April 4, 2006 Work Session, the City Council okayed Dunbar's request for $608-thousand, discussing it for only four minutes before agreeing to put the approval on their consent agenda for the following Council meeting.
Fast-forward to 2007. The 2006 tax revolt has not lost any steam, and two new Council members have taken their seats.
The Special Events budget request had grown 5.9-percent over last year, an increase that Cretekos was not comfortable with. "Maybe it would be wise if you looked at a smaller percent increase," he said, alluding to the possibility of a state-imposed property tax rollback.
Cretekos was rebuffed by City Manager Bill Horne, who said, "It's even more fundamental than that... It's really a function of whether there's any events on here you don't even want to entertain."
"I'm not having a problems with the events," Cretekos said, "I'm just realistically thinking that if we're going to be faced with a freeze or a cap down the road, is it better for our people to know that and plan that way as opposed to planning for a 6-percent increase when, realistically, that's probably not going to occur?"
Horne continued to resist a budget reduction that did not include the elimination of one or more events. "Because we have planned these events so carefully in order to successfully pull these off, we've identified the appropriate costs," he said.
While Cretekos wanted to limit the proposed budget increase, Gibson pushed for a reduction; "I would not be supporting a 6-percent increase. I'd be supporting something more in the line of zero or less. I just can't see, in this environment, spending even more than we spent last year," he said.
Gibson also served notice that he'll be examining future budget proposals with equal scrutiny; "This is how we get into trouble - we start approving multiples of the inflation rate, and then at the end of the day, we have increases that are multiples of the inflation rate across the board. We have non-homesteaded properties that are carrying us on their backs - it's been happening for years. We've got to stop it …We need to start looking at every single budget differently than we have in the past," he said.
The times are changing for Clearwater's budgeting. Last year's rubber-stamp of the Special Events budget became a 24-minute work session discussion, and Mayor Frank Hibbard said, "We will not put this on consent; we will revisit it on Wednesday."