Saturday, February 24, 2018
News Roundup

Dunedin officials discuss looming challenges with 2015 budget

DUNEDIN — City budget planners so far don't anticipate layoffs or another property tax rate increase in 2015, but officials say the city may have to defer some capital projects to help prevent deficits and build reserves.

Finance director Karen Feeney says some revenues, like ad valorem and sales taxes, are expected to increase, but Dunedin will have to contend with unexpected challenges like an increased contribution to the fire pension and a potential rise in EMS costs due to changes at the county level.

The city also expects increases in several fixed costs it can't control, like liability and property insurance and electricity.

Feeney said Dunedin needs to build up its general fund reserve. City policy recommends that Dunedin put a portion equivalent to 15 percent of its operating budget in savings; that would amount to about $3.6 million. Current estimates anticipate the city having only $2.6 million, or 10.8 percent, at the end of the fiscal year.

Feeney and City Manager Rob DiSpirito are recommending 3 percent merit raises for non-union city employees to match those already built into next year's firefighter contract, as well as to reward workers who are doing more with less.

"Expenses are going up faster than revenues. We have to find some way to close that gap," Feeney told city commissioners Thursday during a workshop where she provided a preliminary big-picture look at the budget.

She added: "Some reprioritization will be required to live within our means."

Thursday's preliminary budget forecast also included a look at Dunedin's 20-year capital improvement project schedule.

The list includes $200,000 that budget planners have set aside in 2015 for an environmental classroom at the Blatchley House, $4.9 million in 2015 for a new government services annex, $3.5 million in 2016 for a downtown parking garage and $6 million in 2020 for an aquatics center.

Planners have also tentatively budgeted $4 million to serve in 2015 or 2016 as Dunedin's match of state and county funds likely needed for improvements or additions to Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, where the Toronto Blue Jays train each spring. The team has threatened to leave because it is unhappy with the facilities.

"It's just a placeholder number. There's nothing behind that," DiSpirito said. Until city officials talk with top Jays brass about their needs and translate that into design costs, "it's purely speculative."

The city expects to meet with Jays president Paul Beeston this month, Mayor Dave Eggers said.

Completing every project on Dunedin's capital improvement wish list would result in a deficit, Feeney said. So, the city is pursuing grants and public-private partnerships.

Commissioners who attended Thursday's meeting — Commissioner Julie Ward Bujalski was out sick — supported the 3 percent raise for employees.

Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or [email protected] To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

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