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St. Petersburg whacks $8.8 million from budget through layoffs, pay cuts and fewer perks

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Baker announced a drastic overhaul of the city budget Tuesday, calling for layoffs, pay cuts and reduced employee perks totaling more than $8.8 million in savings.

No departments were left untouched by the latest round of budget woes. Baker himself said he would reduce his salary by 21/2 percent, and City Council chairman Jeff Danner said he would also ask council members to take an equal pay cut.

The changes aim to give the city a financial cushion in preparation for next year, when money problems get exponentially worse. Sinking property values and sales tax revenues could amount to a $15 million to $20 million shortfall in general fund dollars.

"The employees here are no different than the rest of the country," Baker said. "People have come to understand that we are all going to have work harder and do more with less."

The current-year budget adjustments include:

• Eliminating 59 full-time and 33 part-time positions. Most are vacant because of hiring freezes, but about 20 full-time employees will lose their jobs.

• A 2.5 percent pay cut for all non-union employees who earn more than $50,000, adding up to a $300,000 savings this year and $770,000 in 2010. Nearly 500 employees will start receiving smaller paychecks in May.

• The city's Summer Youth Employment Program and Police Civilian Review Board have been consolidated into the Human Resources Department.

• The marketing department will no longer report to First Deputy Mayor Tish Elston. Instead, marketing will fold into City Development. Ann Wykell, the city's cultural affairs manager, was let go because of the reorganization.

• Departments were asked to cut their budgets by 2 percent, resulting in a $4.5 million general fund savings.

Elston said residents will hardly feel the effect of the slimmer budget.

The proposed departmental cutbacks range from the mundane to the minute. City department heads pledged to find spare change by eliminating phone lines and employee training, using e-mail more than paper, less food and ice at community meetings and cutting back on tuition and mileage reimbursements.

Less than half of the eliminated full-time positions involved management, professional or supervisory positions.

The Police Department was hit hard by the changes. It will lose 11 civilian positions, reduce overtime pay and face other cuts totaling $1.7 million. Only three of the eliminated positions were filled.

"Obviously we don't want to lose anybody," said Police Chief Chuck Harmon, who will take a 2.5 pay reduction under the revised budget. "But we looked at the organization, and we felt that losing those positions won't really cause any service impacts to our community."

City administrators also announced proposed wage freezes for all city employees in 2010, amounting to a savings of $4.5 million. Union officials must consent to the pay freezes before administrators can move forward.

"We are not done," said Baker. "But this is a good start for us."

Cristina Silva can be reached at csilva@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8846.

St. Petersburg whacks $8.8 million from budget through layoffs, pay cuts and fewer perks 04/15/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 15, 2009 10:58pm]
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