Iorio meets with City Council on budget
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02/13/08 Seán Kinane
WMNF Drive-Time News Wednesday | Listen to this entire show:

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Today Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio briefed members of the City Council about budget concerns resulting from Amendment 1.

The property tax cut approved last month by Florida voters will greatly reduce revenues for local governments. In the meeting at City Hall, Iorio said the city projects collecting $4.1-million less in property tax in 2009. That would result in a $16.8-million difference between total revenues and total expenditures.

Iorio proposed making up $3.4 million of that deficit with a scheme she introduced in November called “Changing the Business of Government,” which includes privatizing about 100 city jobs.

“We are moving forward to implement all of those items that were in the ‘Changing the Business of Government,’ and we still feel confident that if all of those are implemented, that will be a $3.4-million impact to the bottom line and that will help a great deal. The best thing about it is we can implement all those changes and it doesn’t affect the services that the public receives. It will have no impact whatsoever on what the public receives, which is our litmus test. As we go through budget cuts, our litmus test within the administration is: ‘How does this affect the service that the public receives?’”

But “Changing the Business of Government” continues to be one of the largest points of contention between some members of the City Council and Mayor Iorio. Some of the city’s lowest paid personnel, especially those in janitorial and security positions, would be affected by the privatization plan. But several City Council members, including Mary Mulhern, are concerned that the plan could actually cost the city more in the long run.

“I think we still have a lot of questions about the idea of laying of those hundred … security and maintenance employees. As I stated, I want to see the numbers especially when we talk about firing people and privatizing their jobs. I’m not convinced that that is going to save us money and that it’s worth hurting the people on the lowest rung because I just don’t think the savings for us are that much.”

But Iorio insisted that her plan is the best to maintain continuity of city services in the face of reduced revenues.

“Well, I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree on that point.”

But Councilman John Dingfelder suggested that the privatization of jobs would affect city services.

Iorio said there have only been seven vacancies since October in positions that the city did not consider important enough to hire a replacement.

Council member Mary Mulhern told WMNF she wants the City Council to form a Budget Advisory Committee and hire a budget analyst, which she says is required by the city’s charter. She said that the city would save more money by looking at cuts that don’t just affect the lowest-paid employees.

Another way that Iorio expects to reduce the projected shortfall is through a bond issue that is expiring in November. That should save the city $4.5 million.

“This is very beneficial to the city. It is a bond issue whose debt service has been paid out of the general fund, and so $4.5 million to the good. That’s great news. That brings us down to an 8.9 million dollar deficit still.”

Iorio proposed getting rid of that $8.9-million deficit through continued savings by attrition, eliminating more positions, and through transferring funding for some small capital projects to the operating budget.

Iorio suggested a $1.58 per month rate increase to the solid waste bills of city residents by shifting some of the budget of an Enterprise Fund called Clean City.

“We do feel that we can logically take $3.2 million of personnel funding for Clean City and move it under solid waste. Now, what impact would that have on the solid waste budget, it’s an enterprise fund? We have said before, we don’t want any rate increases this year. I’ve stated that. But I do want to put this option out on the table because it is a sizeable amount of money that could be moved from the General Fund to the Enterprise Fund. It would require a $1.58 rate increase to the solid waste portion of the bill and this would be an overall increase of 2.2 percent to the total utility bill.”

Despite all of the budget cuts, Tampa’s Fire Rescue Chief Dennis Jones said his department needs $3.5-million more per year to hire more firefighters, plus millions more for new stations and equipment.

The proposal presented by Iorio was based on a 3 percent growth in real property values and keeping the millage rate constant. It does not include several additional potential sources of revenue loss for the city and other local governments in Florida: the portability portion of Amendment 1, any action to cut local government revenues by the 2008 Florida Legislature, and any amendments put forward by the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission.

City Council member Linda Saul-Sena warned that any further cuts could affect essential services.

Photo credit: Seán Kinane/WMNF

Learn more:

Previous WMNF coverage of “Changing the Business of Government”

Tampa City Council

Mayor Pam Iorio

Fire Chief Dennis Jones

City of Tampa

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