City Manager Tom Barwin begins the city’s 2017-18 financial report by identifying the biggest fiscal challenge the city is facing: public safety pension funding obligations.
On Tuesday, the city began a series of workshops outlining the budget for fiscal year 2018. That workshop focused largely on changes to the departmental budgets within the city’s general fund, but rising personnel expenses served as a recurring theme as commissioners weighed how and where to spend.
Barwin points out that police pension payments represent 12.4% of the proposed $66.3 million general fund budget. For every dollar the city pays its police officers, it must contribute another 64 cents to the pension plan. Total pension payments are 17.5% of general fund expenditures.
Covering post-retirement benefits squeezes what the city is able to spend on other services, but Barwin said it’s not something the city has to — or can, necessarily — address right away. Barwin said those opportunities would likely occur during collective bargaining with employees, but he wants to be mindful of it as the city budgets, too.
“We’re meeting our obligations,” he said. “But long-range, it has to be rebalanced, because it’s increasingly becoming out of whack.”
Despite any spending constraints, the city is proposing a 7% increase in general fund expenditures. Most of that increase is to maintain the current level of service, but $1.2 million would go toward new positions or other new expenditures.
An increase in taxable property value throughout the city helps offset most of that spending increase. Taxable value in the city is estimated at $9.6 billion, a 9.7% increase over last year. Total proposed general fund revenues are $65.4 million, creating a $953,000 budget gap.
City staff presented four options to close that gap. The budget proposes setting aside $2.3 million in property tax revenue for a new economic development fund, but commissioners could pull back a proportion of that fund to balance the general fund budget.
The city could also consider its first tax increase since fiscal year 2014, raising the general fund millage rate from 3.1728 to 3.2758. For a home assessed at $200,000, this would represent a $15.45 tax increase.
The Sarasota Police Department represents more than 50% of general fund spending. The police department is requesting four new officer positions, including two downtown foot patrol officers, at a cost of $389,753. If approved, the department would have 169 sworn officer positions.
The city’s planning department is requesting three new positions at an expense of $285,191. Planning Director Steven Cover — who filled a position and leads a department created in the last budget cycle — said the new jobs would allow the city to better address long-range planning and transportation issues.
The city's proposed financial plan can be found online. The city budget workshops continue tonight and tomorrow.