Sunday, Dec 21, 2014

St. Pete leaders look to plug $3 million budget hole

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ST. PETERSBURG -

City leaders plan to reduce overtime for police and other workers, slow down hiring and reassign some community police officers as they look to tackle a $2.8-million budget deficit.

They also plan to monitor spending more closely and delay purchases not deemed critical, said Mayor Bill Foster at a City Council committee meeting today. The deficit is the result of lower-than-expected returns from taxes on utilities and communications services.

“We’ve adopted the cookie-jar philosophy: money in, money out, and if it’s not there we can’t spend it,” said Foster. “I feel very optimistic about this.”

City Council members expressed concern that relations between police and communities would deteriorate if officers familiar with neighborhoods are assigned elsewhere. The city has about 15 community service officers or CSOs, said police spokesman Mike Puetz.

“I don’t want to see that cut,” said Councilman Jeff Danner.

“They’re being temporarily reassigned, and a lot of that is to reduce overtime,” Foster said. “Just because they won’t be assigned as a CSO doesn’t mean they won’t be working in that district.”

The city will look to reduce salary costs by leaving some positions open for one or two months or longer if they are not critical

The drop in revenue will also be offset by a directive he gave department heads to finish the year at least 1 percent under budget, Foster said. That directive was originally intended to give the city an extra $2 million to use in next year’s budget.

Councilman Charlie Gerdes said he was concerned at how long it took city leaders to notify the council of the deficit, noting that the city is nearing the end of the second quarter of its fiscal year. He asked that the council get more regular updates.

“We’re six months in already, and we probably won’t know what those results are until June,” he said.

The deficit was partly the result of the mild winter, City Budget Director Tom Greene said. The city’s 10 percent tax on utilities was originally projected to add up to $21.2 million in 2013. Officials have reduced that estimate by about $620,000.

“When we have mild winter like the one we’ve had, people don’t run their heating and we don’t get the tax revenues,” Greene said

Expected revenues from cable, TV, and Internet services have also been lowered by $1.4 million after reviewing the first-quarter returns, Greene said.

Foster remained upbeat about the costs savings, telling the council that the city is in better shape than neighboring Tampa, which is facing a projected revenue shortfall of $20 million.

“It made our $2.8 million rather paltry,” Foster said.


codonnell@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-7654

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