CONA recommends budget cuts for St. Petersburg City Hall
ST. PETERSBURG -- Just in time for Tuesday's 8 a.m. budget workshop between Mayor Bill Foster and the City Council, the Council of Neighborhood Associations filed an analysis of next year's finances that makes a series of recommendations.
* Consolidate city departments and eliminate management positions in the reorganization. Hire an outside consultant to study how best to do this.
* Hire a technology specialist who can reduce costs with the city's information services.
* Freeze salaries, at least for those with higher salaries.
* Rely more on part-time employees rather than using overtime, especially in police and parks and recreation.
* Develop an early retirement program, financed with reserves, to encourage long-term employees to retire sooner.
* Cap city contributions to health care costs and increase the amount employees contribute.
* Identify departments and services that could be consolidated with the county, such as libraries, fire, and police communications and SWAT teams.
* Offer city services to smaller municipalities for a fee.
* Create a compensatory system that better rewards performance.
* Don't cut or add fees for services that benefit low-income families, such as parks, recreation and libraries.
CONA representatives spent weeks meeting with city administrators to discuss options in closing a projected $14 million deficit in next year's budget. The report highlights a main point of contention between CONA and City Hall. In making cuts, city officials should look more at reducing salaries than making further reductions in services, CONA representatives say.
"We conclude that a major driver of the cost increase during the period 2001 to 2010 is growth of salaries and benefits at a rate well in excess of inflation, and that this increase is structural -- caused by excessive cost growth and not necessarily driven by new services," the CONA report states.
City Administrator Tish Elston said she hasn't had to review the report in detail, but said she noticed that in a cursory review of it the city had already implemented some of the recommendations.
"Things like a salary freeze and using part-time employees," Elston said. "This isn't foreign to us."
Michael Van Sickler, Times staff writer