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City's chopping list clearer

Reductions in library and recreation hours and special events subsidies are likely.

By AARON SHAROCKMAN
Published June 20, 2007


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ST. PETERSBURG -- It likely will cost more to use the city's marina and municipal airport, and popular city sponsored events like First Night and the Festival of States may be pared down.

But the number of police officers and firefighters will not drop, city officials said Tuesday.

With a state-mandated formula for tax relief settled, St. Petersburg leaders are beginning the belt tightening they had fretted for months.

The official list of cuts proposed by Mayor Rick Baker may not be unveiled until Friday, when he meets with the City Council at a daylong workshop. But Baker and city officials offered hints Tuesday of what may be on the chopping block, as well as what probably won't.

The overall target: nearly $14-million.

"It's much easier to go into a really fat budget and start whacking it," said council chairman John Bryan. "We don't have that in St. Petersburg. There aren't many obvious things to grab onto."

PROBABLE CUTS, FEE INCREASES

  • Slip rents at the marina. Monthly dock rentals at the St. Petersburg Municipal Marina may rise to market rates. Though the marina breaks even, increased revenues could offset some property tax losses. A 30-foot uncovered spot rents in the municipal marina for about $300 per month. At the privately run Harborage Marina, by contrast, a 40-foot slip rents for about $530 a month.
  • Albert Whitted Airport hangar rents also may go up. The airport lost about $500,000 this year.
  • Nondepartmental spending. How much of the $1.8-million in the city's annual grant funding will be eliminated is still very much in question. The $180,000 directed to the Chamber of Commerce likely will be cut; subsidies for First Night and the Festival of States also are in jeopardy. Others may be, too.
  • Reduced hours. Libraries and recreation centers may be the first target. Fewer hours will likely lead to layoffs, council member Bill Foster said. "If we have to carve $14-million out of a budget, and labor costs are 70 percent of what we spend, some cuts will be inevitable, " Foster said.
  • Out of the box idea. Foster wants to sell advertising space on city garbage trucks. "I think it's a stupid idea, but if it's profitable, I'd rather do it than lay off employees."

THE TOUGH CHOICES

  • Youth recreation programs. The summer programs are money losers, but some council members consider them essential.
  • Neighborhood partnership program grants. The money, about $750,000, helps fund improvements in neighborhoods from traffic calming to playgrounds to new street signs.
  • Social service funding. The mayor and others vowed to combat homelessness in the city. Social service programs received about $650,000 this year.
  • The port. The city is still figuring out a future for its port. In the meantime, it's hemorrhaging money, about $750,000 this year alone. Closing it would present a short-term fix.

WHAT WON'T BE CUT

  • Police and fire uniformed personnel. Though city officials have not ruled out administrative cuts in both departments, don't expect fewer officers and firefighters on the street, Baker says.
  • City reserves. Baker won't touch them. "If you do that, what do you do next year?" he asked.
  • Capital projects. Mostly funded through the Penny for Pinellas fund, the city's construction schedule should not change much. City officials say they will look for ways to save future operational expenses by stretching their capital dollars, with hybrid vehicles and green buildings as examples.
  • Devil Rays, Grand Prix expenses. A favorite of local tax critics, subsidies to the Rays and the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg -- about $2-million -- are mostly locked in by contract.

Aaron Sharockman can be reached at asharockman@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2273.

Fast facts: Impact on taxpayers unclear

If the city's cutting about $14-million, how much savings should I see on my tax bill?

It's hard to say yet. Of the $14-million the city says it needs to cut, only about $8-million will be returned in the way of lower property taxes. The other money is needed to offset mandated increases from higher insurance premiums to union-negotiated pay increases. Mayor Rick Baker said he has yet to settle on a tax rate for the next budget year, which begins Oct. 1.

 

[Last modified June 20, 2007, 01:18:43]


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