TAMPA — The City Council on Thursday decided this is not the time to hire its own budget analyst to help keep an eye on Mayor Bob Buckhorn's administration.
With a $15 million to $20 million revenue shortfall looming for next year's budget, a majority of the council treated the idea as a luxury the city cannot afford — at least, not now.
Instead, several said, any available funds for new positions should go to departments such as parks or code enforcement.
"They're the ones that need new positions, not this council," said council member Frank Reddick.
"If we can keep a pool open for an extra weekend day, to me that would be the place that I would be looking to spend money," council member Harry Cohen said.
The council has had an analyst in the past, and Yvonne Yolie Capin proposed to bring back the position as a way to root out inefficiency, save money and help the council ask more informed questions.
"It is needed," Capin said. "This is not critical of the administration. This is about our work here."
But Capin's motion to consider contracting an outside accountant to serve as an analyst failed 5 to 2.
The only other council member to vote for the proposal was Mary Mulhern, who said the city's $804 million budget is so big and complex that it's hard — if not impossible — for individual council members to monitor and know everything about city spending. A budget analyst could find savings that would pay for the position, she said.
"Our job is to be a check and balance on the administration; we're it," she said. "I feel like it's an abdication of our responsibility not to do this."
Other council members, however, said the council already has a citizens advisory committee that scrutinizes the budget, and the city has an internal audit department that delves deeply into city operations in search of waste and fraud.
"If we have an issue or we have something that we are concerned about there's nothing stopping us from asking the audit department to take a look," council member Lisa Montelione said.
Attorney Tony DeSisto, a member of the citizens advisory committee on the budget, said the committee has not taken a position on the idea, but he described administration officials as being "nothing but forthcoming and transparent."
"All the information, we've sought, they've provided," he said.
DeSisto also noted that the city and county are jointly implementing the $34.2 million Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software program, which will support administrative functions like budgeting, accounting, purchasing and human resources. The ERP is meant to replace outdated and glitchy information systems, save money and take advantage of economies of scale. If successful, city officials have said, the city-county partnership would be the second of its kind in the nation.
Once the ERP is in place, DeSisto said, the city may have better information on whether a council budget analyst would be useful.
Earlier this week, Buckhorn said the position is not necessary. He recalled that years ago he and current council chairman Charlie Miranda voted to eliminate the position when they both served on the council because there wasn't enough work to keep the analyst busy.
"There was barely a day's worth of work in a week," Buckhorn said. The mayor said he's trying to avoid layoffs in the budget he'll propose this summer. He also said "we bend over backwards" to give the council the information it needs, so "I don't know how you could justify it, given the amount of work involved."
Richard Danielson can be reached at (813) 226-3403, Danielson@tampabay.com.