When St. Petersburg City Council members meet at 8 a.m. Tuesday to begin discussing possible cuts in the fiscal 2011 operating budget, they would be wise to start trimming the fat in their own chamber.
During a public forum Wednesday at the Enoch Davis Center at 1111 18th Ave. S, many of the 107 residents in attendance urged the council to show leadership by sacrificing some of their own perks before cutting programs and closing any of the city's pools.
Scott Swift, a resident of Bartlett Park, challenged council members to cut their salaries across the board.
He and several others said they oppose closing the pools and would favor raising pool fees and finding money elsewhere to make up the difference.
In addition to their $40,117 salaries, council members receive $3,000 annually for discretionary spending and council Chairwoman Leslie Curran receives $3,600, said City Clerk Eva Andujar.
Across the pond in Tampa, their counterparts earn $41,246 annually. While they're also considered part time, they serve a larger city. This is one of those cases when keeping pace with Tampa doesn't work.
During the public forum, community activist Tee Lassiter said, "Do not cut any programs that affect our children, especially the pools." One of her suggestions drew snickers from some in the audience. "Give up the snacks and lunch (at council meetings)," she said.
She may be on to something. The next day at a 1 p.m. workshop, city staffers brought in five large pizzas for six council members. Wengay Newton and Steve Kornell were latecomers and didn't eat lunch at the meeting.
We're in a recession. Try the drive-through before the meeting.
At the forum, Curran said she has recommended reducing food spending and a 3 percent salary cut, but a query she put out through the administrative staff came back with little support for either.
"What surprised me was no one supported the 3 percent salary cut," Curran said in an interview later.
"Everybody's having a rough time right now, and why we should be exempt is beyond me. If nothing else, everybody is in the same boat, and I thought it's something we should do."
Salary and food aside, one glaring perk — Ordinance No. 584-G, which will affect the budget for years to come — should be added to the chopping block.
Amended in 2003 under former Mayor Rick Baker, this provision allows the mayor and council members to participate in the city employees' retirement system. That's right. They can get a pension for four to eight years of part-time work.
Mayor Bill Foster and all eight council members are participating in the system, said Andujar.
That a part-time council member can receive a pension after serving one or two terms is a luxury a city of this size — with a $12 million to $14 million deficit — can no longer afford.
There are few places in this country that offer such a perk. In fact, the 519 part-time city employees in St. Petersburg aren't eligible for a pension, no matter how long they have been on the payroll.
The council includes several political novices who sometimes seem more enamored with entitlement than with serving the common good.
It's time to join the ranks of thousands who have made sacrifices for the past five years. The real work begins Tuesday morning.
Sandra J. Gadsden is assistant metro editor/community news. She can be reached at (727) 893-8874 or at email@example.com.