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Tough budget decisions ahead for St. Pete Beach

ST. PETE BEACH — The City Commission will face some tough decisions about next year's budget.

The Amendment 1 tax cuts, loss of revenue from licenses and permitting and drops in property value will likely leave commissioners with a decision of cutting more positions, raising taxes or some combination of the two.

The proposed 2009 budget was prepared with the intention of cutting positions in the police and fire departments to avoid raising the city's millage rate, but the Budget and Finance Committee has recommended raising the millage in an effort to save positions and build up the city's general fund reserve.

The final decisions could weigh heavily on a commission whose members previously said they would go to great lengths to avoid either raising the millage or making any cuts resulting in a decrease in level of service. "I think they need to be compromised," Mayor Mike Finnerty said. There's a middle ground there somewhere."

If approved as is, the Police Department would lose four positions and the city would contract with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, laying off five dispatchers.

The Fire Department would lose three firefighter EMT positions that were added in 2002.

Combined with the elimination of several other city staff positions and last year's cuts, the city would have eliminated 24 positions over the past two years, which would "push the city staff to the limit in providing the level of service the residents have enjoyed in the past," City Manager Mike Bonfield said during the budget's introduction.

On the other hand, the Budget and Finance Committee recommended keeping the three firefighter EMT positions and the police dispatch.

Members also recommended building up the city's general fund reserve by setting aside $285,000 for the next five years, for about $3.4-million or three months of operating cost.

"We've certainly got to build up our reserves. We certainly are in a dangerous financial position," Finnerty said of the current reserve, which in the case of an emergency would only cover about one month of operating costs.

But the committee's recommendations would increase the current millage rate by about 9 percent, which means an annual cost increase of $45 on a homesteaded property worth $500,000, according to Finance Director Elaine Trehy.

The commission will likely discuss raising the millage rate and other options at Tuesday's regular scheduled commission meeting.

Commissioner Harry Metz says he thinks the city can make cuts in staff and avoid raising the millage, while keeping the fire and police departments intact.

"It looks like there's one supervisor for every two people," Metz said.

"There's other fat that needs to be trimmed."

Nick Johnson can be reached at nickjohnson@sptimes.com or 893-8361.

Tough budget decisions ahead for St. Pete Beach 07/19/08 [Last modified: Friday, July 25, 2008 3:05pm]
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