As it prepares its budget for the coming fiscal year, city management asked for a little guidance.
“We’ve never come to you and asked for economic forecasting,” said City Manager Bob Bartolotta. “But we’re at kind of a unique year this year.”
The city manager presented the commissioners with three economic scenarios and asked that they predict which one they believed would occur.
• The economy is on an upswing.
• It will remain level.
• The bottom has yet to be seen.
Bartolotta said whichever forecast commissioners choose would have huge implications on next year’s budget. It’s expected the city will have to trim more than $5 million next fiscal year. That’s on top of the $8 million cut from the budget last year.
The gloomiest of forecasts would have the deepest personnel and service cuts.
“We’re talking about very drastic things,” Bartolotta said.
Vice Mayor Fredd Atkins didn’t want to be too optimistic or pessimistic.
“I’m willing to support the middle of the road,” said Atkins. “I don’t even want to look at what it might appear to be if we go with the worst scenario. To be pessimistic would be too detrimental.”
Commissioner Suzanne Atwell also said she wanted to assume a neutral economy.
But, because the property appraiser’s office estimated a third consecutive year of 10% declines in property-tax revenue, Commissioner Terry Turner felt the city should expect more of the same.
“I’m somewhat comfortable with the flat assumption except in one area,” he said. “I would predict another 10% decline in property-tax revenue. I don’t think it’s prudent to just say it will probably be OK.”
That was the consensus of the commission — be pessimistic on property-tax revenue, but assume the rest of the city’s major revenue sources will remain flat.
Bartolotta said, however, that even a prediction of a neutral economy will mean the elimination of a couple-dozen personnel positions, either through attrition, layoffs or a combination of both.
Cuts in service will also be made, but the city manager would not predict what they might be before budget hearings begin next month.
Turner suggested the city adopt a practice Sarasota County government recently began — more frequent budget reviews. Currently, the city only holds an annual review, but Turner felt quarterly meetings might help the commission and management adjust to any changes throughout the year.
Bartolotta said he would provide those quarterly updates.
Contact Robin Roy at [email protected].