St Pete proposes cutting 70 jobs and almost $14Million from ‘08 budget

06/22/07 Seán Kinane
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This morning the St. Petersburg Mayor and City Council held their first public workshop to address proposed budget cuts. St. Pete Mayor Rick Baker proposed cutting seventy full time positions and eighteen part-time jobs as part of an effort to slice more than twelve million dollars from the city’s fiscal year 2008 budget.

“The impact of the rollbacks will be that we will have service impacts to the city. You cannot take 12.5 – 13 million dollars out of your budget and not have service impacts. We have done everything we can to mitigate those service impacts. There will be seventy positions eliminated from the city. And that is on top of the 57 positions which we had already eliminated to the city prior to this date over the course of last five or six years. And each one of those will find its way into some type of a service impact.”

About fifty full-time city employees will be laid off because about 20 of the positions that are slated for elimination are currently vacant due to a recent soft freeze in hiring by the city.

The budget cuts were necessary because of the State Legislature’s recently passed property tax cut mandating that cities and counties slash their budgets. The city is required to reduce both its millage rate and its overall budget as Mayor Rick Baker explains.

“For any increase in values that we have this year that our millage rate has to be reduced so that we collect no more revenues than we received last year. … The second thing that it requires is that we roll back an additional five percent on top of that.”

Baker said that the twelve and a half million dollars in cuts had to be made even though the city is experiencing increased costs of several items in the budget including insurance and fuel. But he wanted to make sure cuts did not affect core services.

“To make sure that the city has the ability to maintain its core services it provides. First and foremost, public safety, which is police and fire. Beyond that, we have recreation, parks, all of our enterprise funds and be able to manage and do all of our enterprise funds, traffic engineering, and yet continue to grow as a city.”

The only proposed budget cuts for the City Council were reducing by half, or twenty thousand dollars, funding for travel and training. Council salaries were not affected by the proposed cuts.

Last year the city budgeted reserves of two million dollars each for Commercial Insurance Reserve and Economic Stability Funds. Baker said those would be what he called the “easiest” four million dollars of cuts for this year. The city is choosing to make further cuts to services. Baker said that funding for a long list of co-sponsored organizations, arts, and social services would be eliminated.

“And in fact this budget provides for no funding for 68 previously co-sponsored organizations, for 58 arts organizations, for 67 social service organizations and for 11 non-departmental organizations that had been funded in the past.”

Hours of service at swimming pools and libraries would also be cut back. User fees for many city services will be increased in order to generate part of the proposed nine hundred ten thousand dollars in revenue increases.

City Council member Rene Flowers calls cutting social services out of the budget “difficult.”

“With the federal government consistently cutting MedicAid,and MediCare, and their healthcare services, then the state cutting their dollar amount for services. It puts the burden back on cities because individuals look to who they can get to first for help. So it’s very difficult.”

One very large budget item for St. Petersburg and most cities is the cost of paying private insurance companies for city employees’ health insurance. Flowers said that if the Federal Government were to institute single-payer universal healthcare system, it would take away much of the burden on cities.

“ … it seems to be working very well in Canada. … Here’s a way the federal government can help.”

All Tampa Bay area legislators voted for the tax cuts and associated cuts to municipal budgets. Governor Charlie Crist signed the bill into law yesterday. Further cuts to city and county budgets will be necessary if Florida voters approve a so-called super-homestead exemption in January. Flowers recommends that people voice their concerns about the budget cuts.

“I am encouraging the community to contact us … Voice that concern. …I would encourage them to go back to the legislature. …”

That was St. Petersburg City Council member Rene Flowers speaking to WMNF this morning regarding the city’s proposed cuts for the 2008 budget. The next meeting to discuss the St. Pete budget proposal is scheduled for July 10th but there will probably be a meeting next week as well.

Learn more:

Sun-Sentinel article on property tax cut bill,0,4625844.story?track=rss

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