City looks at ways to trim budget
Published: Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 11, 2010 at 10:32 p.m.
The city of Gainesville's budget outlook for next year and beyond is not rosy.
Facing a projected shortfall of nearly $5.6 million in the fiscal year 2010-11, city commissioners met Monday to start kicking around ideas on how to cut costs or raise revenue.
While talks are early and plans are still unformulated, commissioners decided that, in the words of Commissioner Lauren Poe, no "sacred cows" in city government should be immune from any possibility of budget cuts.
Right now, without any additional sources of funding, staff projects approximately $99.7 million in revenues next fiscal year and $105.2 million in expenditures.
Pushing up costs an additional $1 million is the expected opening of the new Fire Station No. 8 at 3223 N.W. 42nd Ave. toward the end of this year, along with 13 more firefighters.
Also, a federal Community Oriented Policing Services grant that funded the hiring and salaries of 12 patrol officers for three years expires in the middle of the next fiscal year. The annual costs of their salaries and benefits is projected to be in the range of $600,000-$660,000.
Then, there are pension costs. With investments not performing strongly, the city's required contribution to employee pension plans is expected to rise from $2.69 million this fiscal year to $4.02 million in 2010-11.
Against that backdrop, staff gave commissioners a scenario of what would need to be done to balance the budget if taxes stayed the same, no fire assessments were established and if employees still received their raises - one percent for police union members and 2 percent for all other employees.
Staff told commissioners the city would face 15 percent across-the-board cuts for all departments, which would eliminate 93 positions.
Given that information, commissioners started to identify options for cutting costs or raising revenue that they wanted staff to investigate. One idea was the elimination of all raises and cutting work weeks for many employees - not police and firefighters - from 40 hours to 35 hours.
"I think employees would rather have an hourly reduction than no job at all," Commissioner Scherwin Henry said.
Henry said he was not necessarily advocating the idea of cutting employees' hours, "but it's something we should not be afraid to look at."
Commissioner Craig Lowe raised the possibility of unpaid furloughs for some employees and whether or not the city could close some facilities and temporarily discontinue some services.
Discussing ways to raise revenue, commissioners were most supportive of an idea that is already under consideration - the establishment of a fire assessment.
"That is the revenue enhancement I would prefer to see," Poe said.
In the summer of 2008, commissioners rejected a fire assessment fee that would have levied a $30 annual charge on homes and varied costs determined by square footage on other types of properties. That would have raised about $2.3 million a year for the fire department.
Commissioner Thomas Hawkins said he was open to discuss a fire assessment or a property tax increase, but would not support both.
Acknowledging a lack of time to get either measure on the ballot for the city elections in March, Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan suggested the possibility of a voter referendum on a tax increase or a straw ballot to measure support for a fire assessment.
The qualifying period for candidates - and referendums - for the March election ends Jan. 29 and the city has only one regularly scheduled meeting before that, on Jan. 21.
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