NEW PORT RICHEY — Faced with an overworked staff and an improving financial picture, city officials plan to hire new employees just months after budget cuts had forced layoffs.
The staff reductions came less than six months ago, when the City Council cut eight jobs and reduced two full-time positions to part-time jobs. At the time, the city faced a projected $17 million shortfall over the next five years. Finance director Doug Haag has since reported that utility and property tax increases have stemmed the tide.
With those financial assurances, the council reversed course Tuesday night and gave the green light to beef up city staff.
Interim City Manager Susan Dillinger sought additional hours for some part-time staffers and the hiring of several positions as employees are overworked and running up overtime pay. From the start of the fiscal year Oct. 1 through Jan. 30, the city has already spent 45 percent of its overtime budget, Dillinger reported.
"Due to staff reductions, various city departments are having challenges with completion of projects, staffing of operations and are heavily relying on the use of overtime funds," Dillinger said.
The request for additional staffing was met by a sympathetic council, which approved staffing increases in several departments including police, development, public works, finance, parks and recreation and library. Overall the cost of the new hires for the rest of this budget year will be about $99,000 and hiring is scheduled to be completed by April 1, Haag said.
Part of the proposal allows for the hiring of two part-time civilian traffic enforcement assistants who will be trained to review red light camera infraction videos, which are coming in by the thousands and currently being reviewed by sworn police officers.
New Port Richey police Chief James Steffens said the overwhelming workload is taking time away from his officers' law enforcement duties.
"This is an attempt to get ahold of the beast," Steffens said.
Deputy Mayor Rob Marlowe applauded the idea.
"Anything that gets those sworn officers on the street is a good thing," he said.
City Council member Bill Phillips liked the plans to hire a development technician, a position that was eliminated in last year's layoffs. At the time, Phillips expressed reservations about cutting that position, as development is ramping up in the city.
The New Port Richey Recreation and Aquatic Center will also get a staffing boost, as the council approved the hiring of a full-time recreation manager and maintenance worker. Also, the council approved bumping a librarian position from part-time to full-time, a library assistant from part-time to 30 hours a week, and creation of an assistant library director. Dillinger was library director when she was tapped to serve as interim city manager.
Dillinger said the library cuts have dramatically affected the facility's processing of new materials.
"We have books stacked everywhere," she said.