Blackburn asks GPD to prepare for $1 million cut, GFR $500k

A Gainesville Police Department officer looks out for student safety at Marjorie K. Rawlings Elementary School at the end of the school day in this Dec. 17, 2012 file photo.

Published: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 5:58 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 5:58 p.m.

Projecting a $3.3 million shortfall next fiscal year, Gainesville City Manager Russ Blackburn is asking all department heads to prepare budget-cutting options.

Overall, Blackburn said the expected cuts amount to about 3 percent of the city’s general fund.

The departments with the largest budgets have been asked to prepare plans for the most substantial cuts.

Blackburn asked the Police Department to look for about $1 million in cuts from its $33.3 million budget. Public Works has instructions to look for $600,000 in proposed cuts from the nearly $10.6 million it receives from the general fund. Gainesville Fire Rescue was asked to identify $500,000 in potential cuts from its approximately $16.1 million budget.

Blackburn said one factor leading to the looming shortfall is the expected $3 million reduction in the transfer of Gainesville Regional Utilities revenues to the general fund. That transfer -- $38.1 million this year and a projected $35.1 million next year -- is the single-largest piece of the city’s general fund.

Blackburn said the potential cuts he’s asking departments to identify might not end up in the budget he submits to the City Commission in July.

“It doesn’t mean these are absolute things that are going to be cut,” Blackburn said. “These are options to reduce the budget.”

He added that his budget recommendation “will include reductions in many departments.”

The possibility of cuts has raised concerns over the potential loss of public safety staff.

Police Officer Jeff McAdams, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said he expects the department could not withstand a $1 million cut without laying off officers.

“I know the Gainesville Police Department cannot sustain a $1 million cut without the public feeling the pain themselves,” McAdams said. “My goal is to lobby the commission that one size does not fit all.”

Fire Chief Gene Prince said his staff just started meeting to come up with proposed reductions. Prince said the department could not cut $500,000 without laying off some personnel.

Starting in September, Blackburn has had a soft hiring freeze in place for general government vacancies, including those in police and fire. That means department heads have to provide justification to Blackburn on why a position must be filled before the hiring process may move forward.

In a memo sent Tuesday to city commissioners, Blackburn said he has approved filling 12 of 13 vacancies in the Police Department. Those included 10 patrol officers. North Florida Regional Medical Center is paying for five of those positions to provide 24/7 police coverage in the hospital’s emergency room.

“As your city manager, I believe that it is important for the city’s largest departments to review positions and opportunities for efficiencies in a similar manner as other departments,” Blackburn wrote. “Maintaining an appropriately staffed police department will in most cases result in approval to fill vacant positions but there is tremendous value in pausing to evaluate the necessity for the position and the impact of the position on service delivery.”

In the memo, Blackburn said other departments might face cuts in the range of 11 percent if the departments with the largest budgets were exempt from reductions.

Blackburn noted that other areas of general government have eliminated 81 positions and cut $15 million in spending since 2008. During that time, police and fire each have added 22 positions, he wrote. The annexations of Butler Plaza and the student apartments along Southwest 20th Avenue were factors in the need to add more police, Blackburn said Wednesday. The Fire Department also opened a new station on Northwest 42nd Avenue in 2011. Thirteen of its additional positions were for staffing that station.

Blackburn said he wants departments to submit reduction plans by late April or early May.

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