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Sarasota Thursday, Jul. 11, 2013 4 years ago

Proposed Sarasota city budget increases


At a City Commission workshop Monday, city officials presented a $191 million proposed budget for fiscal year 2013-14 — an 8.4% increase over last year — with a $2.5 million deficit still waiting to be addressed.

City Manager Tom Barwin said the city of Sarasota’s preliminary budget reflected a cautious optimism that some cuts associated with the economic downturn of the past few years can be scaled back, because the budget also includes a 5.6% increase in revenues. Still, Barwin said he believes the budget keeps the city living within its means.

“The story of this budget is the story of a resilient community rebounding from the dramatic impacts of the Great Recession,” Barwin said.

A net of 11 jobs will be reduced from FY 2012-13. The police department will see a net reduction of 11 full-time jobs and carry 17 fewer sworn-officer positions.

Still, police spending is the largest budgeted area from the general fund, making up 50.3% of the roughly $58.6 million in general fund expenditures. This is due in large part to rising pension costs: Currently, about 80 cents must be matched in pensions for every dollar of police salary, Barwin said.

Fire pension, retiree medical and other post-employment benefit costs represent another 17% of general fund spending. According to city Finance Director John Lege, more than one-fifth of the
$14.9 million budget increase over 2012-13 came from increases in general, fire and police pensions.

Other significant areas of increased spending include $3.4 million for the purchase of vehicles and radios; $3 million for repair of shoreline damage caused by Tropical Storm Debby; $2.6 million for the construction of a new bus-transfer station; and $1.7 million in water and sewer facility upgrades.

At a February meeting, commissioners directed staff to take a balanced approach of revenue increases and spending cuts to balance the budget, leaving a potential millage rate increase on the table. At that time, the FY 2013-14 deficit was projected to be about $5.7 million.

Changes that address the deficit in the proposed budget include one-time transfers from other reserve funds, position reductions and an increase in the city’s taxable values from last year of 4.57%. Combined, adjustments since February have reduced the deficit roughly $3.2 million, leaving $2.5 million to be covered.

To fully bridge that gap via tax revenue, a millage increase of .4385 mills would be necessary. For a house with a taxable value of $200,000, this would represent a tax increase of $87.70 more than the current millage rate of 2.9249.

Lege said there were still non-tax solutions available to reduce the deficit, including the use of more than $1 million from the Revenue Stabilization Fund and a potential increase in parking revenues of $250,000. Still, a deficit of more than $1.2 million would remain.

Barwin said the city was focused on the strategic enhancement of the quality of services. Though the city will have 577 full-time budgeted positions — a 25.7% reduction from 2007 — Barwin said the city will seek to restore employee training programs. By the end of FY 2014-15, he hopes all city employees will receive 40 hours of training per year.

Other emphasis areas Barwin mentioned include the increase of maintenance standards for public properties, a focus on addressing the issue of homelessness and the rebuilding of the city’s infrastructure. The budget includes more than $13 million in fixed-capital improvements, he said.

“As the economic, cultural and quality-of-life beacon on Florida’s Gulf Coast, the city of Sarasota must remain committed to excellence and continuous improvements,” Barwin said of the targeted spending areas in the proposed budget.

The City Commission will hold budget workshops from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, July 16, and Wednesday, July 17. The preliminary millage rate will be set July 17.

Contact David Conway at [email protected]

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