The Sarasota City Commission received a new list of budget cuts Tuesday from city staff that recommends commissioners make $844,091 in additional budget cuts and approve a 3% millage rate increase.
City staff’s previous suggestion, in June, was to keep the millage rate at its current rate of 2.7771 mills and take $2 million out of the $2.9 million reserves budget to cover a $6 million budget shortfall.
But the commission requested the latest list of budget cut recommendations before it reviews the fiscal year 2012 budget next on a first reading at its 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 6, regular meeting.
In the proposal, City Manager Bob Bartolotta explains the staff-recommended list requires a millage rate of 2.8607 mills. The move would allow the city to use $1,155,909 from its revenue stabilization fund, instead of Bartolotta’s previous suggestion that the city use $2 million from reserves.
The increase in millage would also pay for $459,490 in expenses and operations costs for the Lido Pool and Robert L. Taylor Community Center.
Although the staff-recommended list included $844,091 in cuts, staff also included a separate list of cuts that could trim approximately $2.1 million from the budget.
Some of those cuts staff does not recommend include Lido Pool closure options, suspension of take-home car benefits for employees, suspension of wage increases for teamster employees and police officers (which must be bargained in contract negotiations) and a one-day furlough for all general fund employees.
Commissioner Terry Turner called the list “something we can work with.”
“I hope it’s a list that will provoke the commission to have good conversations next month on where we can save money,” Turner said.
Turner, however, thinks the savings aren’t large enough. “I am concerned about the tax increase that’s suggested,” he said. “Personally, I will only approve a budget that has $1 million in cuts and no tax increase.”
Turner believes there are still many more budget items that can be cut and that tougher decisions need to be made in the form of more personnel cuts.
Turner said the city must find ways to “stem the bleeding” that will occur in fiscal year 2013, when a potential 16% millage rate increase will be needed unless the real-estate market turns around.
“There is an assumption by city staff that in fiscal year 2013, there will be a 1.5% increase in the tax base,” Turner said. “That’s not the way we should be thinking.”
Turner proposes the commission look for ways to cut the budget now to reduce shortfalls in future fiscal years.
What concerns Turner is that a small decrease in employee salary and wage costs in fiscal year 2012 will turn into a 3.2% increase in those costs in fiscal 2013. Turner expressed frustration that personnel costs continue to rise when the city has already cut 183 employees in the past three years.
Click here to view the City's proposed budget cuts.