ST. PETE BEACH — A potential million-dollar shortfall in revenues next year is forcing the city to consider major cuts in personnel and services to balance its 2009-2010 budget.
"Our biggest challenge is the loss of property tax revenues," City Manager Mike Bonfield said Tuesday.
A 10 percent drop in property values, as estimated by the county property appraiser earlier this year, will mean a loss of about $650,000 in tax revenue.
The city expects to receive firm property tax values from the county by July 1.
"If it comes in lower, we have a bigger problem," said Elaine Trehy, the city's finance director.
In addition to lower property tax revenues, the city is also facing a significant cut in EMS funding from the county.
After a recent meeting with county EMS officials, Trehy said she is hoping the EMS cuts will be less than the $375,000 estimated.
"We may get more EMS money that we budgeted, which would help with the shortfall," she said.
Again, the city will not know for sure until some time in July.
Meanwhile, Trehy and Bonfield are anticipating the worst.
"We've made a lot of cuts," Bonfield said. "When we can do no more, we will have to recommend cuts in services."
One major proposed cut is the elimination of all merit and cost-of-living raises for city employees, a proposal potentially complicated by contract negotiations now under way with three unions representing police, fire and municipal employees.
Bonfield is also recommending the city reduce the number of employees by not filling several vacant positions and cutting others. Among the lost positions would be a permit technician, a library assistant, two police officers and three firefighter-paramedics.
Other cuts include eliminating holiday decorations, closing the recreation department's swimming pool during winter, closing the city library on Mondays and closing the building permit application window at 2 p.m. each day.
When the city's fire chief retires in January, Bonfield said the deputy chief will be promoted to fire chief, leaving the deputy chief position unfilled.
Even with all of these cuts, and the city budget is still about $473,000 short, Trehy said.
The shortfall could be offset by an additional $220,000 in county EMS funds, but that increase in revenue is not certain.
So far, Bonfield is not recommending any increase in property taxes, currently set at 2.3764 mills.
At 2 p.m. Thursday, a citizen Budget and Finance Committee will begin reviewing Bonfield's tentative budget and make further recommendations to the commission, which is scheduled to begin its budget workshops in July.
The City Commission will vote on a tentative millage rate at its July 21 meeting. Once approved, that rate can be reduced in the final budget, but cannot be increased.
The final budget must be approved by Sept. 30, the end of the current fiscal year.