CLEARWATER — At least $70 million would be cut and 367 full-time county jobs eliminated next year according to a budget proposal by Pinellas County Administrator Robert LaSala.
LaSala has been privately briefing county commissioners this week about the reductions to balance the 2010 budget. But he declined to release the 51-page proposal until the Times pressed for it as a public record.
The spending cuts would hit a wide swath of programs — from health care to public works to economic development to parks.
"There's still more to be added," LaSala warned Thursday night, but added that those cuts would be smaller.
The county expects it will need to slash $85 million from next year's general fund, which pays for most government services, because of the depressed economy and mandated property tax cuts. The overall budget is $1.9 billion this year.
About $38 million of LaSala's proposed cuts would help plug the $85 million hole. The rest would come from cuts already identified by other county agencies.
For example, Sheriff Jim Coats plans to spend $32.8 million less in his 2010 budget, which the commission must approve. In a May 1 letter, Coats said 265 jobs, overtime and three holidays for employees would be axed, among other cuts.
LaSala's proposal doesn't include proposed fee increases, such as adding a $3 to $5 per car charge to enter Fort De Soto Park. But LaSala said new fees would not substantially close the gap.
Job cuts and spending reductions have sparked anxiety among employees and lobbying to spare Pinellas programs.
LaSala was trying to carefully control information about the proposed reductions in advance of a Wednesday budget meeting with commissioners. Instead of providing each commissioner with a copy during his individual briefings, he kept the documents.
LaSala said he intentionally avoided leaving copies with commissioners.
"Commissioner (Neil) Brickfield asked for a copy, and I said I'd really prefer to hold it until every commissioner has heard it presented," LaSala said.
LaSala, hired last fall to replace embattled predecessor Steve Spratt, said he also would be "distressed" if employees learned about losing their jobs in the newspaper.
He said he wasn't trying to sell each commissioner on his proposal, but rather wanted to help the board make "informed decisions."
Ultimately, LaSala e-mailed a copy to all commissioners and the Times shortly before 6 p.m. Thursday, a day after the Times' public record request — and after County Attorney Jim Bennett reviewed it for any information exempt from disclosure.
Like Brickfield and Commissioner Ken Welch, Commissioner John Morroni declined to elaborate on the cuts because they are still in the proposal stage.
"It's the largest cut hopefully I'll ever see as a commissioner," Welch said.