CLEARWATER — City residents voiced concerns Thursday night about proposed cuts in the city's budget that will affect everything from library hours and the number of days recreation centers will open to how often the grass will get cut in city parks.
Thursday was the first of two public hearings on the city's $375-million total budget for fiscal year 2008-09. The second hearing will be Sept. 18. The budget takes effect Oct. 1.
Much of the focus Thursday night was on the reduction in library hours.
"I'm really shocked that the city has made the decision to close the library on Friday and Saturdays," resident June Connell said of the city's proposal to close the Countryside Library on Fridays and Saturdays to save money.
Mayor Frank Hibbard said the city has been balanced in its approach to the cuts. He said it's not just dollars but it's affecting people's lives.
"I will say, this has not been an easy year," he said. "We made cuts in parks and recreation, police and fire services, public works and throughout the city."
And, now, the library system.
The library is losing about $500,000 from its budget, said director Barbara Pickell. That reduction includes the loss of 10 staff positions on top of five jobs lost last year.
"When you lose staff, you have to lose library service hours," Pickell said.
At the proposed millage rate, 4.7254 mills, the city will bring in $22-million less than it did the previous fiscal year.
The city would bring in $46.2-million from property taxes at that rate, down from $53.3-million two years ago. Property taxes are 12 percent of the city's budget.
Pickell said to meet the budget request she will combine the Beach and North Greenwood staffs. The Beach Library will open in the mornings and North Greenwood in the afternoons in order to catch the school-age crowd. North Greenwood also would open on Saturdays.
The Countryside and the East Library will alternate evening and morning hours and the downtown library will remain open all the time because it's the city's resource library, housing more than half of all the system's resources.
"We are looking at a significant reduction in library use and library service hours," Pickell said. "We are looking at truly cutting back."
At least one council member spoke out about the turf issues that arise when such cuts have to be made.
"There are people who want their library to stay open and say to cut someone else's library," council member George Cretekos said. "It's our library. They belong to all of us. They were built because one time or another, someone said build this library, this recreation center, and we did.
"Next year, if we are going to have to close one of these libraries, one of these recreation centers, that neighborhood is going to be up here saying don't close this and close that."
Cretekos said residents were told in January that if Amendment 1 passed there was going to be a serious strain on city government to continue to provide services.
"You told us that we were making that up," Cretekos said. "(Residents thought) your taxes are going to drop like a rock. Nobody's taxes dropped like a rock. Sixty-seven percent (Pinellas County residents) said reduce our millage rate and cut our taxes. That's what we are trying to do without decimating the city of Clearwater. This is where we are."