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Clearwater residents make suggestions for budget cuts

CLEARWATER — If residents had their way, the wrecking ball would take out the Harborview Center today.

Community policing would also be gone, or at least part of it.

And there would probably be no C-View television to deliver special events, televise meetings or present streaming video.

These are just a few of the services residents want city leaders to consider cutting when they begin budget deliberations Monday.

Interestingly, they differ from some of the cuts the city has proposed, including trimming recreation center hours and closing some libraries. Those are items many residents say they want protected.

City leaders say it's not too late to amend their proposals to reflect the residents' wishes.

The city in the past few weeks held two public meetings — the final one Thursday night at the downtown Main Library — where officials asked residents to help establish city priorities.

More than 200 people attended the events, where they were asked to place poker chips into "keep" or "cut" piles. The chips each represented a specific service, including police substations, recreation centers, libraries and beach lifeguards. Although the city is looking to cut roughly $10-million, or about 10 percent, from its current $123.1-million general fund, it kept the math simple. The chips added up to $20,000 and groups of eight to 10 residents were asked to cut $2,000 from the pot.

Now, city leaders will use the information to reconfigure city spending.

"It was surprising," Mayor Frank Hibbard said. "First of all, it wasn't easy for everybody and opinions varied tremendously on what to cut, and you could see certain regional themes. But the process met my expectations and it gave us a barometer for what is important to citizens."

The meetings were often intense. Residents from all over the community participated, from the most affluent to the poorest, and some conversations about what to cut became argumentative. Other times, though, everyone was in accord.

In the end, libraries and recreation centers were at the top of the "keep" lists.

"The libraries can't get cut – we need more safe places for our kids, especially with the crime we have," said Maurice Mickens, 65, a North Greenwood resident.

Some programs win favor, others don't

Mickens suggested cutting Squad 49, a seven-member firefighting unit that provides emergency backup and includes a vehicle that carries equipment no other city fire truck can.

A few others agreed, and it was an issue that touched a nerve with some firefighters who turned out to both meetings, passing out literature, titled "Clearwater officials playing games with your safety."

"We want them to use due diligence, these are people's lives we're talking about. And they're being decided by poker chips," said Dave Bryan, an 18-year firefighter.

Beach resident Anne Garris suggested eliminating funding for the homeless center because other sources can pay for it.

One of the biggest surprises, though, was the proposed cuts to community-oriented policing, which gets officers out of their cars and into the neighborhoods. Some residents suggested that noncertified officers could take over the responsibility.

Chief Sid Klein said if residents "had a more in-depth analysis of (what the program) does, they'd have a different perspective."

He said if the program was cut, "from a public safety perspective, we're going to go backward."

Other services at the top of the chopping block list? Cut or reduce beach lifeguards, the Jolley Trolley beach bus, landscaping, special events and the Police Department's accounting operation — the only department that doesn't consolidate accounting with the rest of the city.

The downtown Harborview Center, which houses the Stein Mart department store and the Pickles Plus Too Deli, also drew a big bullseye. Residents felt the center, which falls under the parks and recreation center's purview, doesn't offer enough and costs the city too much to keep up – about $200,000 a year.

Kevin Dunbar, parks and recreation department director, disagreed.

He said the center recovers 90 percent of its expenses and is a venue for major community events such as the Festival of Trees and the Taste of Clearwater.

"There's a niche market and if you take that away, some of the signature events won't be there," Dunbar said.

Dunbar did hear some good news: Most residents enjoyed their recreation centers.

"They offer programs for kids and give them something to do. Take them off the streets," said Tricia Baker, 33, a Morningside resident with four children.

Vice Mayor George Cretekos said the meetings were successful, adding they "gave us a good opportunity to hear reaction. Because unless the (program) doesn't specifically affect them, they won't come to us."

>>if you go

Meeting Monday

Clearwater leaders on Monday will begin combing through the city's spending for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. The discussion will be part of the city's regularly scheduled public work session, which begins at 1:30 p.m. at City Hall, 112 S Osceola Ave.

>>Possible spending cuts

Finding $10-million

The city has crafted a three-tiered list that cuts spending by as much as $9.8-million, or roughly 10 percent of its current general fund. City leaders say they expect to have to trim between about $6-million to almost $10-million because of Amendment 1 and a decrease in property values. The first two tiers account for 52 full-time equivalent positions and $5.8-million. The combined three tiers account for 90 full-time equivalent positions and $9.8-million.

Here's a look at some of the bigger service cuts.

Tier 1-2

Reduce training and travel in all departments: $146,560

Cut police and fire overtime: $750,000

Reduce C-View programming: $77,960

Reduce landscaping: $103,200

Reduce library hours: $675,830

Reduce aquatic center hours: $123,930

Cut Jolley Trolley payment: $150,000

Cut five Police Department administrative jobs: $249,350

Tier 3

Cancel chamber of commerce contract: $150,000

Cut Harborview Center subsidy: $342,240

Close Beach, North Greenwood and East libraries: $1,060,100

Cut beach lifeguard program: $700,000

Cut community oriented policing: $384,000

Cut homeless center funding: $97,000

Clearwater residents make suggestions for budget cuts 04/25/08 [Last modified: Sunday, April 27, 2008 10:20am]
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