Budget Falls Quietly into Place
By Carl Wagenfohr
CLEARWATER - The home stretch of the city's 2010/11 budget process began on Monday night with the first of three public meetings at City Hall. The meeting was uneventful, as only three of Clearwater's taxpayers offered their opinion on the proposed budget.
From a $9-million deficit that was forecast in January, City Manager Bill Horne and his staff collectively tightened the city's belt, keeping the property tax millage rate at 5.155 mills and accommodating a $4.5-million reduction in 2010/11 property tax revenues.
The savings were largely the result of eliminating employees, with a total of 62.9 positions axed, 49.2 of them supported by General Fund property taxes.
Remarkably, Clearwater was able to eliminate approximately 4.5-percent of its positions without layoffs. Human Resources Director Joe Roseto explained that the city was "judicious" in filling vacancies this year, hiring only into critical jobs and leaving vacancies that would later be filled by employees whose positions were to be eliminated.
But the bulk of the reductions resulted from the city's retirement incentive program that was accepted by 56 employees this year. Roseto said that half of the positions vacated by retirees were eliminated, and the vacancies created by the other half were filled by employees whose jobs were to be eliminated.
Public safety, largely immune from cuts in prior years, accounted for the majority of the staff reductions this year.
The Clearwater Police Department eliminated 26.9 positions, including seven sergeants and one detective. The sergeants will not be laid off, but will continue to be funded from reserves in 2010/11 to the tune of more than $500,000. The city is assuming that the sergeant positions will be vacated over the year through attrition.
Clearwater Fire Rescue will also share the pain, with the City Council deciding this year to eliminate Rescue 50, whose funding was cut last year by Pinellas County. Four firefighters and three fire medic positions will be cut as a result.
Long-term homesteaded property owners will see an increase in their city tax bill this year due to a 2.7-percent CPI increase in their taxable value. Budget Director Tina Wilson offered two examples during Monday's meeting. A home valued at $135-thousand in 2009 would see a $19 increase, while a $200-thousand home would receive a $28 increase.
The owners of non-homesteaded properties, on the other hand, would see a reduction in their city tax bill due to an 11-percent decline in their values. The owner of a non-homesteaded property valued at $135-thousand in 2009 would see a $71 drop, while a $200-thousand property would receive a $105 reduction.
Two budget hearings are scheduled in the month of September: September 9 (Thursday) and September 22 (Wednesday).
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