CLEARWATER - The Clearwater City Council met for three hours last Thursday morning, engaged in a workshop about the city's 2006/07 budget.
But few of the Clearwater citizens who participated in last Tuesday's public meeting on the budget would consider it time well spent; despite their pleas to reduce city expenses, the Council managed to carve only $8-thousand out of the budget, and all of that plus more was attributable to the efforts of the management of the Jolley Trolley.
Councilmember John Doran set the tone of the workshop early. He said that he was not "demeaning" the call for budget reductions made by the public at last Tuesday's budget meeting, but went on to describe the public input obtained in a series of nine "visioning" meetings held last year involving hundreds of people.
"The City Manager and the city staff prepared a budget based on the vision that was provided to us by all the people who came out and spoke," Doran said, adding that he would hate to "veer off the road" because of one budget meeting.
Out of a $123-million General Fund budget, the Council spent the first hour of the meeting discussing the only three items that seemed to be in play: a $300-thousand subsidy for Ruth Eckerd Hall programs, a $28-thousand increase in the subsidy for the Jolley Trolley, and an 11th-hour request for $20-thousand from the Florida Orchestra.
Mayor Frank Hibbard initiated the discussion of the $20-thousand requested by the Florida Orchestra. He explained that Clearwater is currently funding the Orchestra to the tune of $30-thousand per year. "Included in that obviously," he said, "is the two concerts that they do down at Coachman Park." The orchestra asked for the additional support because of its rising expenses, including a $1 per ticket surcharge recently imposed by many of its concert venues.
The only budget cut made was as a result of efforts made by the management of the Jolley Trolley. A request for an additional $28-thousand city subsidy was made earlier this year, but Jolley Trolley President Bill Kirbas announced that $35-thousand of operating cost had since been trimmed from their budget, including reductions in liability insurance, workman's compensation insurance and a lower cost fuel supply.
Councilmember Carlen Petersen defended the additional $300-thousand commitment to Ruth Eckerd Hall. "It's almost like seed money," she said, "they are very good at taking money and parleying it into something bigger."
But while Councilmember Bill Jonson called the Ruth Eckerd proposal "outstanding", he asked "Is that the top priority for us to spend an extra $300-thousand on this year?" Answering his own question, he said, "I can't do that," and expressed his preference to either reduce the millage rate or spend it on an accelerated sidewalk improvement program.
Jonson received no support for his position, Mayor Hibbard and Councilmembers Hamilton and Doran favoring the additional $300-thousand Ruth Eckerd Hall subsidy.
The council agreed to deny the $28-thousand additional subsidy for the Jolley Trolley, providing $20-thousand of it to the Florida Orchestra and reducing Clearwater's 2006/07 budget by a grand total of $8,000.
Will Perry, one of those who called for cuts at Tuesday's public budget meeting, said, "What they threw us was not even a crumb." Perry recalled a famous quote from James Otis, "Taxation without representation is tyranny," and provided his own corollary; "Sometimes, taxation with representation is tyranny."
The Clearwater City Council will hold the first of two public hearings on the budget on Tuesday, September 5th, at 6PM. The second hearing will be held as part of the regular City Council meeting on Thursday, September 21st.
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