Budget Cuts Start To Add Up
By Carl Wagenfohr
CLEARWATER – Faced with an estimated 2009/10 budget shortfall of $7 to $13-million, the City of Clearwater has begun announcing cost-cutting initiatives in advance of the June hearings that will set the preliminary tax rate.
The most significant decision to date is the planned elimination of 34 full time positions, saving an estimated $1.2-million in the first year and $1.9-million in subsequent years. The cuts were not limited to hourly workers, but included two Directors, six Assistant Directors and five management-level positions.
Several departmental consolidations are also planned, including moving the beach life guards from the Marine department to Parks and Recreation, merging Development Services and Planning, and transferring the Neighborhood Services function to Public Communications.
The city’s recently approved retirement incentive package will also have a beneficial effect, with 35 employees now having signed-up to take it according to Human Resources Director Joe Roseto. The deadline for acceptance of the retirement offer is April 22.
The package offers a lump sum $11,000 to staffers who retire by September 25th, and an additional $5,000 if their retirement is effective by May 23rd. While Roseto was unable this week to predict the program’s annual savings, earlier estimates would have reduced payroll by $3.1-million if all 170 eligible employees signed up. If 50 employees ultimately opt to take the package, annual savings would likely be just under $1-million.
Cuts in the Clearwater Library System would amount to $350,000 according to a recent memo by Library Director Barbara Pickell.
The savings would result from:
Despite the reduced budget, Pickell proposed adding a sixth short day of operation to both the East and Countryside branches.
The least effective of Clearwater’s recent cost-cutting efforts came to light during Monday’s Council worksession. As recommended by the Clearwater’s 2007 Budget Task Force, the city hired an independent consultant, Mercury Consultants, to conduct a utilization study of its fleet of 856 vehicles and motorized tools.
Mercury concluded that the city’s fleet is well-managed, and recommended that only 22 units be eliminated. Of those, only 4 were cars. Mercury estimated annual savings of $13,200 from maintenance and repair and a one-time $53,650 from the sale of surplus units. An additional $515,200 was identified as avoided future replacement costs of the 22 eliminated units. The city paid $40,000 for the Mercury study.
Charlie Rutz, who as a member of Clearwater’s 2007 Budget Task Force recommended that Clearwater eliminate its Police take home vehicle policy, called the Mercury report “superficial at best, with no real savings to the city.”
Rutz suggested that the city take another look at police take home vehicles as a source of significant savings. As a Budget Task Force member, he had estimated that 45 police cruisers could be eliminated, saving $75,000 annually in insurance and repairs, and $1.3-million in future acquisition costs.
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