Council Makes Deeper Cuts In 2009 Budget
By Carl Wagenfohr
CLEARWATER – Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard set the tone at last week's City Council Budget Workshop; “I don't believe this is a one-year phenomenon,” he said, describing the impact of Amendment 1 and declining property values on municipal budgets.
“If we don't have some of the cuts this year, we're going to have additional next year,” Hibbard said. “I also think that 67-percent of our electorate came out and said that they wanted to pay less in taxes, and I think that us raising the millage rate is not really square with that,” he opined, encouraging his Council colleagues to cut the city's 2008/09 budget by an additional $2.5 to $2.7-million.
Councilmember Carlen Petersen and Vice Mayor George Cretekos were reluctant to answer the Mayor's call, Cretekos saying that additional cuts could be “devastating” in the future, and Petersen calling the cuts already made “substantial” and suggesting that additional cuts would have a “slash and burn” effect on the city.
Nevertheless, the Council proceeded to revisit the three-tiered list of budget-reducing options that Budget Director Tina Wilson offered earlier this year, most of those in the first tier, totaling $3.2-million, having already been taken.
Clearwater Public Library – The Council voted to reduce the Library budget by $400-thousand by a vote of 4-1, Petersen against. The Council directed that no library branches be closed, but left the specific cuts to the discretion of Library Director Barbara Pickell. This will likely result in reduced operating hours of all library branches.
Parks and Recreation – The Council voted 3-2 to take all the Tier 2 Parks and Rec savings, totaling $816-thousand, Councilmembers Doran and Petersen against. This will pare headcount by 14.8 full-time equivalent positions, resulting in reduced operating hours at rec centers and less frequent landscape maintenance. Contributions to the African American Leadership Council and Ruth Eckerd Hall will be reduced by 10-percent. By a separate unanimous vote, the city's $150-thousand annual subsidy of the Jolley Trolley will continue.
Public Communications – By a vote of 4-1, Councilmember Paul Gibson opposed, the Council retained the level of funding of CVIEW, the city's public information television operation.
Clearwater Police Department – The Council voted 4-1, Petersen opposed, to reduce the CPD budget by $250-thousand, leaving to the discretion of Chief Sid Klein what would be cut.
Salary Savings – The Council agreed to budget a $300-thousand salary savings, achieved largely by a hiring freeze and by not immediately filling positions when they become open.
Budget Director Tina Wilson calculated a total savings of $2.281-million, allowing Clearwater's property tax rate to be reduced to 4.7126 mills from the preliminary rate of 4.955 mills. The owner of a home with an after-exemptions taxable value of $200,000 will save $48.48 on next year's city taxes as a result of the Council's actions.
While citizens will suffer a reduction in city services, city employees will not be subjected to forced layoffs. Human Resources Director Joe Roseto explained that current and planned vacancies, totaling 54 jobs, would accommodate employees whose positions will be lost as a result of departmental budget cuts.
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