CLEARWATER - Clearwater's Budget Task Force members turned their attention to potential cutbacks in city services during their February 20th meeting. The heads of four of the city's largest departments, including Police, Fire & Rescue, Parks and Recreation and Library presented how they would respond to budget reductions of 5 and 10 percent.
Police Chief Sid Klein said that a 5 percent cut in his budget would amount to $1.78-million. He said that 29 sworn officers would need to be cut, eliminating most community policing programs throughout the city. The Downtown Bicycle Team, Old Clearwater Bay, North Greenwood, South Greenwood, Clearwater Homeless Intervention Project (CHIP), Wood Valley and Eastern (Countryside) neighborhood patrols would be shuttered, and operations would be based out of headquarters, Countryside and Beach substations.
A 10 percent cutback, $3.56-million, would require the elimination of a total of 57 sworn officers, including 36 positions in Community Policing, nine positions in Traffic Enforcement, seven positions in Community relations and five K-9 positions. The Officer Friendly program and School Resource Officers at Clearwater and Countryside High Schools would become history. While Klein said that his department would still be able to achieve its basic mission, response times would suffer and he would be unable to staff special events.
Chief Jamie Geer presented how Clearwater's Fire & Rescue operations would deal with the hypothetical 5 and 10 percent cuts. At 5 percent, or $870-thousand, Geer would eliminate Squad 49, the Jaws of Life unit currently staffed with six firefighters, and distribute its equipment and responsibility to other stations. In addition, Geer would eliminate a Fire Plans Examiner position and the overhead of supporting a S.W.A.T team. A 10 percent budget cut, $1.74-million, would add the closure of Station 47, located at Highland and Lakeview, and consolidate it with Downtown Station 45 in a new facility located somewhere between the two existing stations.
Reductions in the Library budget would result in a reduction of services. Director Barbara Pickell would reduce hours at each branch, but not close any, with a $272-thousand, 5 percent cut. The operation of the Greenwood branch would be reduced to three days per week, and the Beach Branch to two. A total of six full time employee positions would be eliminated, including staffing at the reference desk and information desk at the Main Library.
A 10 percent reduction, or $544-thousand, would in addition close the Main Library four evenings per week, and the East and Countryside Branches two evenings per week. The Adult Programming position would be reduced to part-time, and three librarian positions would be eliminated. Responding to a question from Board Chairman Nathan Hightower, Pickell said that shuttering both the Beach and Greenwood branches would save 10 percent, leaving service levels and operating hours at the remaining branches untouched.
Kevin Dunbar, Clearwater's Director of Parks and Recreation, said that he has already been reducing his budget by outsourcing the operation of small rec centers to community organizations. He said of the hypothetical 5 and 10 percent cuts, "We're not cutting back, we're cutting bone." Among his plans for a 5 percent cutback, he listed reducing the city's contributions to cultural programs, eliminating cash contributions to special events, cutting back landscape maintenance and closing the Morningside Recreation Center but leaving its pool open.
With a 10 percent budget reduction of $1.9-million imposed, Dunbar would in addition close recreation centers on city holidays, close the Clearwater Beach Recreation center except for rentals, eliminate some cash contributions to cultural programs, eliminate a number of full time positions, and further reduce the frequency of landscape maintenance.
Closing the meeting, Board Chairman Nathan Hightower said, "We were tasked with looking at a lot of issues and perhaps making suggestions that are not the most political, but we're not worried about being re-elected. So I think we have an opportunity to make some bold recommendations."
Hightower asked his board colleagues to prepare their recommendations for discussion at the next meeting on February 26th, and suggested that the board would meet one last time on March 5th to finalize their report to the City Council.
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