Projects could be delayed
By BRIDGET HALL GRUMET, Times Staff Writer
INVERNESS -- Expecting the tough financial times to last at least another six months, City Manager Frank DiGiovanni is calling for "belt-tightening" at City Hall.
Some road resurfacing projects, computer upgrades or the plans for a new boat ramp may have to wait a year or two longer, DiGiovanni said Monday, to balance the city's budget without raising property taxes.
DiGiovanni will broach the subject tonight with the City Council, suggesting a budget workshop for council members to discuss the possibility of delaying certain projects. The council meets at 5:30 p.m. in City Hall.
"You've got to make do with what you can. You can't print the money," DiGiovanni said. "These are not the best of times, and we've got to recognize these are not the best of times."
The recession has hurt the city just as it has hurt many investors, he said.
Attempting to jump-start the sputtering economy, the Federal Reserve Board cut the interest rate 11 times last year, bringing the cost of borrowing money to its lowest in 40 years.
But for investors, including the city of Inverness, the lower rates mean less income from their interest-bearing accounts.
The city has $10.3-million in an investment account with the State Board of Administration, the agency that manages various state trust funds, including the retirement fund for government employees.
Last year, the interest on the city's account averaged 6.68 percent, netting $681,000 for the city's general fund.
But this year the interest rate on that account has fallen to 2.03 percent. City officials already expected less revenue, but the latest figures show a $221,115 shortfall beyond what they expected.
At the same time, the city is facing other financial pressures, DiGiovanni said.
A salary study that will be presented this evening calls for raises for 16 employees to make their wages more competitive. Altogether, the raises would cost an additional $42,344 next year.
Other costs of doing business -- medical benefits, workers' compensation, liability insurance -- are soaring, DiGiovanni said.
And the city has a slate of ambitious projects for the coming years, including a new City Hall building, parks around Cooter Pond and the historic-themed downtown renovations. Some of those projects would be difficult to delay, DiGiovanni said, because they rely on state grants with deadlines attached.
That leaves the city looking to tighten its ongoing expenses, such as stretching out its road repaving projects or computer upgrades over a couple of extra years, DiGiovanni said.
Somewhere the city also needs to find the money for a new boat ramp accessing the Tsala Apopka lake chain, an idea the City Council supported last month.
DiGiovanni estimates a new boat ramp would cost $500,000 that would be for buying the land, designing the boat ramp and building it. The city hopes to get county support for the project, but would still have to find some money for the boat ramp in its five-year "capital improvement program."
Unless the City Council shifted other projects in the five-year plan, the boat ramp would have to wait until the 2008-09 budget year.
Dick Kaufman, the council member who suggested building another boat ramp, thinks the city can find the money for the project.
"I would imagine it would be in order to revisit any number of projects and set aside whatever we need. It would become a priority thing," Kaufman said. "If enough people want (the boat ramp), they can work it out. If they don't want it, they can keep it out."
-- Bridget Hall Grumet can be reached at 860-7303 or email@example.com.
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