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$1M FROM RESERVES KEEPS SAFETY HARBOR FROM LAYOFFS

Services and workers don't face cuts, but two nonprofits do.

It took some skillful maneuvering, but the city managed to balance its budget without having to reduce services, close municipal facilities or lay off employees.

Like Tarpon Springs, Safety Harbor had to appropriate funds from its reserves - in Safety Harbor's case, $1 million - to achieve its goal. It also cut back on funding to a couple of nonprofitagencies and postponed some nonessential capital improvement projects such as purchasing trucks.

"We've maintained approximately the same costs as last year (and) we're decreasing the budget,'' said Mayor Andy Steingold.

The City Commission unanimously approved the proposed $13.2 million general fund budget and $3.06 property tax rate on first reading at a meeting Wednesday. Final adoption is set for Sept. 21.

The $3.06 for every $1,000 of taxable property value is an increase from the $2.78 rate in fiscal year 2008-09 but most property taxes should remain about the same because overall property values are down 9 percent from last year.

As far as dipping into its cash reservoir, City Manager Matt Spoor was quick to point out that it's not as bad as it may seem.

In an e-mail to the St. Petersburg Times, he said, "Remember, we realized almost that entire amount in savings this year through voluntary separations and cuts in current year expenditures. The fiscal year 2008-09 reserves are $7,911,862 and the estimated reserves for next fiscal year are $7,858,640. That's only a difference of $53,222.''

Eleven employees left their jobs this year when they were offered a package as an incentive to depart.

Spoor said the city must budget for fiscal year 2009-10 with the estimated revenues that it expects to receive.

"That revenue came up about $1 million short, so the city had to use $1 million from reserves to balance next year's budget,'' he wrote. "When the current fiscal year ends, we will move the savings we realized from the separations and cuts back into reserves and recover the majority of that money.''

City spokesman Brad Purdy said there is a proposed 3 percent merit increase but no longevity pay or cost of living allowances in the proposed 2009-10 budget. The city eliminated six full-time and two part-time positions.

With the city trying to make ends meet, two local nonprofits lost out, a fact City Commissioner Mary Lynda Williams called "unfortunate.''

"Everyone has to take a cut'' in this economy, she said.

In 2008-09, the Neighborly Care Network got $15,000. In upcoming fiscal year, it will receive $10,000.

The Safety Harbor Museum of Regional History got $35,000 (as well as $5,000 in Community Redevelopment Agency money) in 2008-09. It will receive $25,000 plus $5,000 in CRA money in 2009-10.

Bobbie Davidson, the museum's director of operations, was devastated.

"It's going to make things very difficult,'' she said.

Davidson said the museum's expenses were a little more than $103,000 last year, and she expects they will be about the same in the upcoming year.

She said the facility relies on admission fees, camps, special events and donations to operate.

"I'm scared,'' she said. "Without the support of our city and individuals and grants, we would close our doors.''

She said she hopes a sponsor will step forward and offer money to help her advertise the museum's shows, exhibits and benefits.

Eileen Schulte can be reached at schulte@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4153.

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