ST. PETERSBURG — The rationale for recent cuts at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve is that the city has to get serious if it wants to plug a projected $14 million hole in next year's budget.
Cutting five full-time ranger positions wasn't popular, but it was fiscally prudent, Mayor Bill Foster and city officials say, because it saved more than $175,000 in next year's budget.
Yet how much did eliminating those jobs, many of them prized by city residents who use the park, actually save the city?
It depends on how the savings are measured.
Four of the rangers still work for the city. If the amount they earn now in salaries and benefits is subtracted from what they and a retired ranger would have earned in their old jobs, in addition to the cost for their uniforms and equipment, the annual savings is about $90,000.
The city's $175,000 is based on the cost of Boyd Hill's new staff subtracted from the cost of the five ranger jobs and part-time clerk, said Clarence Scott, administrator of the city's Leisure and Community Services Department.
Scott said he doesn't calculate what it costs the city to pay the three other rangers who moved to other positions because those jobs were already budgeted. Although the jobs had been vacant — and the city is in a hiring freeze — those positions would have been filled, he said.
Foster said the jobs filled with the former rangers were left vacant in anticipation of Boyd Hill's reorganization. If the rangers didn't fill them, others would have been hired, he said. Therefore, the cost of paying them in their new positions is moot.
Asked how long these positions had been vacant, Scott said it was weeks and maybe a few months. They definitely were not open for a year or more, he said. "Those are dollars that were already appropriated," he said. "That's not a new cost to the city."
It's easier to calculate the effect on the people who lost the ranger jobs.
Two actually saw a pay increase. Sydney Lemieux earned $33,176 as a ranger and was promoted to a nature preserve supervisor making $34,611. Gregory Coston earned $40,684 before getting bumped to $43,617 as a city parks maintenance mechanic.
Savings came with only three rangers.
Herman Trappman earned $40,684 a year. He was told he could have a maintenance worker job cutting grass, but Trappman is 64 and has asthma, so he retired.
Candace Arnold earned $40,684 a year, but took a $7,238 pay cut for the job she was offered as a maintenance worker at the preserve.
Diane Richardson is now a maintenance worker along the city's waterfront, where she makes $30,804 — $9,880 less than she did as a ranger. She mows and picks up trash near the marina, Pier and Mahaffey Theater.
"I'm trying to adjust," Richardson said. "I'm just hoping the mayor reconsiders."
Foster said he can't in a budget season with deeper cuts looming.
"It was the best way to fill essential positions," Foster said. "Now, as we look forward, everything is on the table."
Michael Van Sickler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8037