This isn’t your ordinary budget season at Town Hall.
A majority of the Town Commission is focused on controlling what kind of budget Town Manager Bruce St. Denis will present June 1 and has formed a committee that will eventually recruit Key residents to oversee all aspects of Town Hall to determine each department’s efficiency level.
St. Denis presented a list of ways that Town Hall has saved money over the past five years, showing that 13 full-time positions have been eliminated since 2005 and that cost-of-living and wage increases will not be offered to employees for the third consecutive year.
But most of the commissioners expect St. Denis’ staff to operate with even less in the coming fiscal year by continuing to whittle away at budgets before layoffs are considered.
Commissioner David Brenner called for St. Denis “to take a big whack” out of the commission travel-and-convention budget; consider increasing the Longboat Key Public Tennis Center fee schedule; and stop making matching contributions to 401k plans offered to town employees.
“Once you do that and some other things, you end up with a number dramatically lower than the $800,000 (anticipated budget shortfall),” Brenner said.
St. Denis received direction to use a portion of the town’s $5 million general fund balance to pay for $750,000 in pension-funding requirements and increase the millage rate to pay for two additional police officers that will cost approximately $200,000.
But for the second meeting in a row, Brenner urged the town manager to be creative and do more to make Town Hall more efficient.
Brenner and Commissioner Lynn Larson suggested the town form a committee of residents who could review town departments and offer suggestions to make sure the town is operating efficiently.
The suggestion immediately gained traction from Mayor George Spoll and Vice Mayor Jim Brown.
But St. Denis continued to tell the commission he didn’t understand what more the commissioners wanted him to do.
“I still don’t know what we’re looking for,” St. Denis said. “All the department heads have reduced staff and made a lot of modifications.”
Brown was upset with St. Denis’ response to the committee suggestion.
“I don’t know why Bruce is rejecting this,” Brown said. “I think we need to set up a committee. I’m not putting you down Bruce, but if it’s your attitude you can’t do it any better, maybe not doing it with Bruce is the only way to go and we should have someone on the outside (reviewing operations at Town Hall).”
St. Denis, however, said he wasn’t saying he couldn’t cut more from the budget.
“I don’t mean to come off as not supporting this, but I’m just not clear what this group is going to do,” St. Denis said.
Commissioner Hal Lenobel urged the commission to reconsider and let St. Denis handle the budget and town operations without outside help.
“We have enough information here to dictate to Bruce what we want,” Lenobel said.
But Brenner disagreed.
“There are citizens who reside in this town who can offer their services and help town operations,” Brenner said. “Even if it’s a pain in the butt while they are here.”
Commissioner Robert Siekmann, along with fellow commissioners Larson and Brenner, will work together to form a mission statement for the committee and discuss how to attract and seek input from island residents.
Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected].