Presented with an anticipated $800,000 shortfall in the 2010-11 fiscal-year budget, the Longboat Key Town Commission is resigned to the fact that taxes will have to be raised to make up the difference.
And even though new commissioner and former city of Philadelphia Finance Director David Brenner conceded that taxes would have to be raised, he and other commissioners still expect Town Manager Bruce St. Denis to do everything in his power to whittle down that six-figure shortfall — or eliminate it altogether.
Brenner urged St. Denis to present a preliminary budget June 1 that also includes a sidebar showing how the town can cut $800,000, which Finance Director Tom Kelley estimates is the anticipated shortfall in the 2010-11 fiscal year.
Kelley told the commission, at a budget workshop Wednesday, May 5, he expects another 10% drop in property values to be confirmed July 1, which would mean a loss of $768,000 heading into the fiscal year 2010-11 budget.
And Police Chief Al Hogle’s request for an additional two officers to combat rising crime this past year will cost an additional $217,000, Kelley said.
“I would like to see how expenses have been reduced to match anticipated property-tax reductions,” said Brenner, who urged the town manager to meet with department heads to cut expenses.
St. Denis, however, told the commission he wouldn’t be able to find $800,000.
“I don’t think there’s any more elephants to pull out of the hat,” said St. Denis, who said he could find some money, but not all of it. “I would assume more personnel reductions are necessary to do this.”
Brenner, however, said it’s not time to discuss layoffs.
“I think you can get there without going to extremes yet, and we should do everything possible not to touch the head count first,” Brenner said. “It’s going to be painful, Bruce, but I think you can do it.”
Brenner suggested that reductions in pay and benefits, as well as furloughs for employees, should be suggested before layoffs.
Mayor George Spoll, however, was willing to discuss the elimination of at least one town position.
Spoll urged the commission and St. Denis to consider how the Longboat Key Fire Rescue Department is run by possibly eliminating the fire marshal position held by Lou Gagliardi.
“I’m not trying to micromanage,” Spoll said. “Rather, I don’t want to hear why we can’t do things, but would love to hear that we may be able to do things differently.”
Interim Fire Rescue Chief Paul Dezzi said he followed Gagliardi for two weeks to take note of his duties and argued against eliminating the position.
“I find the position irreplaceable,” said Dezzi, who said that Sarasota County eliminated its fire marshal position and then reinstated it.
But Spoll thinks the fire marshal position, which works in the planning department and the fire department, is not a full-time position.
The town manager agreed to explore how the fire-rescue department and the fire marshal position operates but warned the commission he doesn’t want to minimize fire prevention because it saves lives.
The mayor made his comments after Kelley explained the town would need an extra $200,000 to fund the town’s three pension plans and an extra $150,000 to fund rising attorney costs associated with the
Longboat Key Club’s Islandside renovation-and-expansion project and labor- attorney fees associated with contract negotiations for the police and fire-rescue departments.
And, because the town agreed to fund losses in its pension plans over a shorter period of time, the town has to come up with $1.1 million to fund the three pension plans next year.
Commissioner Robert Siekmann suggested that money needed to fund pension losses should come out of the commission contingency fund.
Said Siekmann: “My point of view is we should use that contingency money because we should have funded those plans with that money we have accrued in the past.”
Siekmann said the funds for two additional police officers and a shortfall in ad-valorem revenues should come, in part, from raising the town’s millage rate.
And Commissioner Lynn Larson also urged St. Denis to review employee benefits and travel-and-education expenses.
Toward the end of the meeting, St. Denis asked the commission for policy direction and wanted to know if he should continue to be protective of the town’s current level of service.
But Jaleski said the commission is not ready to answer that question.
“We want to make sure we have optimized operations first before we give you that direction,” Jaleski said.
“I don’t think we are there yet.”
Brenner, meanwhile, urged town staff to realize what needs to be done this summer.
Said Brenner: “We have a budget crunch worse than last year. The point here is it’s a golden opportunity to re-examine how the town does its business. It takes a budget crunch like we have to step back and find out why we continue to do things the way we do. We will never have a better opportunity to fix things and make them run better if there’s no pressure to do it.”
Contact Kurt Schulteis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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