Amid storms, Pinellas officials worry about budget cuts
CLEARWATER -- With the budget still falling, Pinellas County Administrator Bob LaSala said Tuesday that spending and staffing cuts have him worried about how well the county responds in an emergency.
Property tax revenue is on track to fall 6 percent due to falling values this year. The county had assumed the drops would end next year, but sales values suggest declines might continue, chief assistant county administrator Mark Woodard told the County Commission.
Last week's storm, like a massive water main break in December, are "microcosms" of the challenge, LaSala said.
Sally Bishop, emergency management director, said the county handled the storm well, but it would pale compared to a hurricane. Staffing cuts may have reduced the number of county employees to effectively respond to public questions during a crisis, for example. Typically, 10 percent of employees respond to questions, but the job cuts may mean that would include workers in the field during an emergency. And the county learned recently it needs front loaders that apparently no longer are available to four teams responding to demand to clear debris.
The emergency management department's $865,000 budget wasn't cut this year, but it was reduced by 49 percent over the previous three years. However, other agencies that have been downsized, such as public works, provide much of the muscle in a disaster.
"This is -- again -- the balancing act," Commissioner Karen Seel said.