DADE CITY — City Manager Billy Poe and finance director Jim Class had seven days to balance the books.
The shrinking tax base and other dwindling revenues left Dade City with a stubborn $168,000 deficit, prompting talk at last week's City Commission workshop about the things no one wanted to do: raise taxes or cut services.
So Poe and Class pored over the city's expenses. They found an adjustment that would save a few bucks on workers' compensation premiums. They realized they could cut maintenance costs at the building no longer leased by the American Legion. They put less money toward the youth council and the contingency fund, and let a vacant police officer's job go unfilled.
They managed to plug the $168,000 hole, and they presented a proposed budget to city commissioners on Monday evening that kept the city's tax rate flat, at 7.1 mills. For most property owners who have seen their property value drop, that would mean a lower tax bill for next year.
"I had to get down into the weeds of the budget," Poe said of the proposed $5.2 million spending plan.
"Fortunately, we won't need to lay off any workers. In fact, we were able to promote a code enforcement officer from part time to full time."
The plan still awaits a final vote by the City Commission, and some members are looking for more savings.
At last week's budget workshop, Mayor Camille Hernandez offered a couple of big ideas to cut costs: Lay off eight part-time police dispatchers and rely on the county's 911 call center instead, and charge a fee to festival organizers to help cover some of the city's costs for such events.
Neither idea gained much traction among her colleagues, though.
City merchants — some of them members of the Dade City Chamber of Commerce or Downtown Dade City Main Street — attended the budget workshop Monday evening, prepared to object to any efforts to cut the police dispatchers or charge festival organizers.
"Did you notice that the Chamber and Main Street representatives attended the meeting to support special event organizers?" said City Commissioner Scott Black. "We're all relieved that the prospect of charging them fees for street festivals was eliminated."
Although he would have liked to fill the vacant patrol officer position, police Chief Ray Velboom was glad Poe's plan kept the city's dispatch unit intact.
"At least, I'm glad that our eight dispatchers were saved," Velboom said. "What can I do? They're the boss."
Still, City Commissioner Jim Shive said he would like to revisit the conversation on Police Department pensions and staffing.
"I commend the city manager and I'm glad the budget is balanced," he said. "But I still believe that we're a bit top heavy in Police Department administration. We have 16 officers and 24 sworn employees to serve a population of 6,400. There's some wiggle room and enough police employees for a reshuffle."
Hernandez said she is reserving her judgment until July. 24, when commissioners vote to increase, decrease or maintain the existing millage rate.
"We'll have until our next meeting to chew on and digest the budget packets before confirmation of the millage rate," she said. "As we move forward and as the Chamber and Main Street go along, we are trying to position the city to lighten the burden on citizens by bringing new business to town."
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: The Dade City Commission will set its tentative millage rate on July 24. The previous version of this article gave an incorrect date.