Council: Budget clean, lean and tight

Still, officials say they'd like more input from residents on what they're willing to spend on services - and what they'll sacrifice.

Published August 25, 2006

CLEARWATER - Six hours of budget discussions over two days yielded a mere $8,000 in cuts to the city's almost $400-million proposed spending plan.

A majority of the City Council on Thursday morning - despite some previous requests from the public to reduce spending - said they're happy with the proposed budget, often describing it as clean, lean and tight. They said it was based on the "visioning process" city officials conducted through nine meetings with the public last year.

But, they said, they'd like to hold more community meetings before the end of the year to discuss just how much residents are willing to spend on services and what they're ready to sacrifice.

Mayor Frank Hibbard said the meetings last year focused more on the services and what residents wanted, rather than what impact those services would have on the budget.

"We can provide anything the citizens desire, but it costs money and it's their money," Hibbard said.

In the meantime, the proposed budget for upcoming Fiscal Year 2006-07, which begins Oct. 1, didn't change drastically Thursday and isn't expected to when the council holds final hearings next month.

The council removed $28,000 in extra funding for the Jolley Trolley operation and transferred $20,000 of it to the Florida Orchestra.

The other levels of city services, a majority of the council agreed, will stay the same. Council members said "hundreds of people" attended the meeting last year to discuss the city's future and less than 20 attended Monday night's two-hour meeting to discuss public spending.

They said before Monday, very few residents complained about the budget.

"I think you'll see that (Clearwater residents) want to live in a special place, but being in a special place - you'll have to pay a little more money," council member John Doran said.

Council members also questioned just where, and whether, they would make any cuts.

Council member Carlen Petersen predicted city leaders would have a tough time finding a consensus among the public because residents "are perfectly willing to cut someone else's services but not theirs."

The city this year predicts an additional $12- million in expenditures because of rising fuel, utility and insurance costs, and an increase in pension contributions, but Clearwater will offset it through $12- million in extra taxes and fee revenue.

The overall proposed budget, which includes self-supported enterprise funds such as solid waste, water and sewer, recycling and parking, is $399-million. The general fund, which covers much of the day-to-day operations for the city's departments, is $123.6 million.