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Largo braces for budget cuts

Over the next several years, some Largo residents will lose their favorite programs and city workers will feel the brunt of budget cuts.

Despite tax reforms, cuts have been relatively painless the past couple of years. Just a few employees lost their jobs and few programs were on the chopping block.

But this year and the coming years will be different, said city finance director Kim Adams.

"We've made all the easier cuts, all the obvious cuts, already," Adams said.

The city expects to slash its general fund budget from $6 million to $8 million over the next four years. Those cuts mean the city will have to reduce city services significantly, leaders say.

The general fund gleans funding from property taxes. And city workers clearly will be affected by future budget cuts because 75 percent of the city's general fund goes to personnel costs.

Last week, city leaders and department heads attended an all-day session to discuss budget priorities over the next few years. Specific details weren't hammered out. But the city is looking at a variety of methods to cut the budget short and long term.

Last year, the city cut 38 positions, mostly through attrition and early retirement.

Now, city leaders are looking at reducing more jobs. They're considering freezing salaries or reducing annual raises. They also may require employees to work shorter work weeks or take days off without pay.

Those steps may reduce the need to reduce positions and therefore layoffs, said Assistant City Manager Henry Schubert.

Mayor Pat Gerard said it was unrealistic for anyone to expect a 4 percent raise this year.

City Commissioner Harriet Crozier asked department directors to see how city workers feel about the proposed ideas.

"I don't want anyone to lose a job," Crozier said.

City leaders also may be asked to downsize major projects, such as the renovation of the Highland Recreation Center and the new Community Center.

The recession has reduced city revenues, such as sales and utility taxes and franchise fees. But the city's financial predicament is impacted more by legislation than the current economy, Adams said.

The full effect of Amendment One has not been felt yet, Adams said. And the Florida Legislature is still looking at cutting property taxes more.

"The economy could start booming tomorrow," he said, "and 80 percent of our problems would still be here."

fast facts

Current budget

Overall: $149.9 million

General fund: $61.9 million

General fund cuts from fiscal year 2010-2014: $6 million to $8 million

Ideas Largo is considering to deal with short- and long-term budget woes:

SHORT TERM

• Eliminating or freezing vacant positions

• Freezing salaries or limiting annual raises to 2 percent

• Reducing or cutting programs entirely

• Reducing employee hours, possibly to 37.5 hours per week

• Mandatory furloughs, unpaid days off

LONG TERM

• Partnering with other cities or the county

• Reducing or eliminating services that benefit small groups

• Increasing user fees, such as those for recreation services

Largo braces for budget cuts 02/28/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 28, 2009 3:31am]
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