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St. Petersburg moves forward with changes to its savings plan

ST. PETERSBURG — A City Council committee gave unanimous support Thursday to a proposal to change how the city determines if it has enough money socked away.

The committee comprised of council members Bill Dudley, Charlie Gerdes, Jim Kennedy, and Karl Nurse agreed the plan is a more transparent way to calculate if the city has met its goal of keeping a general fund reserve equal to 20 percent of total appropriations. The proposal must now be approved by the full council. Right now, to determine if the city has met the target set by policy, officials add the balances of the general fund and economic stability fund. The new plan also would include the city's other reserve funds in the calculation: the preservation reserve fund, arts and cultural programs fund, assessment revenue fund, arts in public places fund and technology and infrastructure fund.

The plan also establishes a 5 percent target for completely unassigned dollars in the reserve fund to ensure the city has enough cash on hand for emergencies, Finance Director Anne Fritz told council members.

In the 2013 fiscal year, the city fell shy of its goal, ending the year with about $34.8 million in reserves as opposed to $42.1 million. If the proposed new formula was applied to last year's budget, the city would have exceeded its 20 percent target. However, it will still be about $2.4 million — or 6.1 percent — short of the target for 2014.

Gerdes emphasized the change would not make it easier for the city to raid, for example, the arts fund for other purposes. Reappropriating money in the various funds would still require council approval.