DADE CITY — With the city facing a $168,009 deficit next year, Mayor Camille Hernandez offered two bold ideas for saving money:
Lay off the city's police dispatchers.
And charge a fee to organizers for events like the Kumquat Festival, Cinco de Mayo and the Christmas Stroll.
Neither idea enjoyed much support among her colleagues at a budget workshop Monday evening, though. City Commissioner Bill Dennis worried that eliminating the eight part-time dispatchers — which would save about $40,000 — could hurt the Police Department in the long run. If Dade City didn't have its own dispatchers, 911 callers would get Pasco County's emergency call center, and there would be an extra step in relaying a Dade City caller's information to a local police officer.
"Will the loss of this operation impact the Police Department?" Dennis asked. "They are our only selling point for annexation. Our response time now is three to five minutes. I wouldn't consider jeopardizing that. This is all very preliminary and I'll need Chief (Ray) Velboom's opinion before making any decision."
Velboom, who was in Fort Lauderdale for the Florida Police Chief Association annual meeting, missed Monday's workshop. Capt. David Duff, who attended the workshop in his place, shook his head during the conversation.
"I hired and trained these employees over the past 28 years," he said.
Relying on the county's emergency dispatchers would cost the city money, too, Duff said, though officials have not yet determined how much.
Eliminating the dispatchers and not replacing a police officer who recently retired would save about $91,000, Hernandez said, helping close the budget gap brought by tumbling property values.
Hernandez emphasized she did not want to "put more burden on the taxpayers" by increasing the tax rate — a thought echoed by City Commissioner Jimmy Shive.
"I don't want to raise property taxes," Shive said, "and that's probably what (City Manager) Billy (Poe) will propose. We already have second highest millage in the county."
But Poe noted the city has been steadily cutting its spending.
"This is the fourth year in a row that we've cut expenditures in order to avoid a property tax increase," Poe said.
City Commissioner Eunice Penix spoke up against any layoffs and City Commissioner Scott Black grimaced throughout the session. Scott specifically scoffed at the suggestion of charging outside event planners a fee to conduct city festivals, as a way of recouping some of the city's costs in providing police and other staff for the events.
Scott warned the mayor that "going down that road would be a waste of time and would alienate organizers. These are some backbone decisions."
Hernandez repeated the backbone reference frequently during the discussion of future cuts, even referencing Poe's $75,000 salary.
"I will not rubber stamp anything when it's the hard working people in this town that will pay for it," Hernandez later told the Times. "At a time when we're trying to attract new businesses to town, we need to be rolling in the same direction."
Another workshop is scheduled for July 16 as city staff and commissioners continue to ponder cuts versus raising taxes before the budget deadline of Sept. 25. The new budget year begins Oct. 1.