IRB Budget Makers Tread Softly With an Eye for Critical Cuts
by Leo Coughlin
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - If taxpayers in this Gulfside city revolted after all the talk of reductions and lower taxes who could blame them?
Based on last week's budget discussions it appears that the city's spending will go up by 8 percent in fiscal 2008.
The talks took place last Friday over 4 ½ hours of painful discussion.
One of the aspects, leaped on with ferocity by Commissioner Jose Coppen, was the proposition that to hold to the proposed expenses would necessitate dipping into city reserves to the tune of $230,000.
Coppen pointed out after the second budget session last week that doing this would result in the city being in the red in about three years.
Consequently, Coppen says, expenditures the city cannot afford need to be eliminated.
Commissioners agreed that reserve funds are for emergencies and not to make up for overruns in spending. "If reserves are too high, the excess should be returned to the taxpayers as a millage rate reductions, not used for projects we could not afford otherwise," Coppen said.
Among expenditures coming out of the general fund where ad valorem taxes go are vehicle replacements, an emergency generator for city all and financial software.
So far, $80,000 has been budgeted in fiscal 2008 for the vehicle fleet, $25,000 for the emergency generator and $25,000 for the financial software.
One sticking point was the contract with the Sheriff's Office for police services which is going up by a hefty 9.7 percent, or by $74,000 over the current $762,000.
Budget makers want a lower figure and talked about a reduction in services (not very palatable to taxpayers) or by negotiation.
For example, city residents already pay, as part of their county taxes, funds for the Sheriff's Office. Bottom line, if any jurisdiction should show that it could not pay for services the Sheriff would still be required to provide law enforcement.
IRB officials pointed out that the Sheriff has recently added Belleair Beach and Belleair Shore as contract jurisdictions and this probably reduced administrative costs that could be passed along.
In fact, the Sheriff's Office now polices in the area an arc from Belleair Bluffs, down through Belleair Beach and Belleair Shore through Indian Rocks Beach to the Indian Shores line.
The Sheriff's contract is going back to the drawing board for possible changes.
A proposal to cut commission salaries, which are very low to begin with, was wisely voted down. Elected officials should be paid for their work and the fiduciary responsibility they undertake.
Too often, citizens get elected to public office and are for the most part amateurs in terms of governance and react as though they are officers of a home owners association. Their responsibilities go far beyond this. This amateurism is one of the big arguments in abolishing the slew of small villages in the area and letting the county govern.
But there was a decision to cut 10 percent from the travel and per diem outlays and training, education and dues spending.
Likewise, $7,200 was cut from the city manager's travel and per diem allowance along with paring $750 from the fund that pays for shirts for city-labeled shirts for non-uniformed personnel (which was a bit of foolishness to begin with, no doubt sparked by the idea of youths forming a club - "We can put on our own show.").
Other adjustments were made in the administration budget but nothing of a drastic nature.
A cut of $18,000 was made in the Shoreline publication which now will be limited to a city directory to be published once a year.
Put off was a determination on employees' pay and benefits. A year ago city workers got a 3 percent cost of living increase along with a 3 percent merit raise, following a pattern in most local communities.
But this year, as Coppen points out, "The situation may demand a reduced salary package to offset the increased costs of health and retirement benefits."
There will be more discussion on this at a budget meeting next Monday and after a survey of what other local jurisdictions are doing.
Public hearings on the budget are set for September 5 and 19.
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