Delivering the 2013 budget today, Mayor Ashton Hayward discussed the city of Pensacola’s future in a State of the City address that was both optimistic and sobering.
While touting recent successes, the mayor also noted that the city must deal with a ballooning pension commitment and shrinking tax base.
“The budget I present to you today is a blueprint for our future,” Hayward told the Pensacola City Council and members of the public at the city hall.
The mayor’s office notes that the 2013 budget comes in $600,000 lower than last year’s budget. The proposed $221-plus million budget will be the subject of upcoming city council workshops in July, as well as public hearings in September.
“Jobs and economic growth remain my primary focus,” Hayward said today.
To accomplish such growth, the mayor presented a number of ideas, including: establishing a $1 million economic development incentive fund to be used to market surplus properties and offer incentives to growing businesses and new ventures; creating a voluntary annexation program to encourage population growth; updating the master plan for the Pensacola International Airport; installing infrastructure at the Port of Pensacola to allow docked vessels to run on land-based power instead of diesel engines; capitalizing on the city’s natural gas asset.
Hayward also discussed the property sitting next door to Pensacola City Hall. The city is apparently eyeing the former ECUA site—a prime 18-acres— for purchase.
“Given its size, and proximity to the Community Maritime Park and waterfront, its successful redevelopment is critical,” the mayor said. “As such, we are currently exploring options for the purchase of the property. Ownership of this key site will provide the city with the opportunity to incentivize high-quality future redevelopment.”
The mayor also addressed some planned environmental efforts. In addition to asking city council to adopt a green building code for private development, Hayward said the city would soon commission an energy audit; the audit is designed to be cost-neutral through the state’s Guaranteed Energy Performance Savings Contract Act.
“We’ll continue to green our city—not only because it’s good for the environment, but also because it saves taxpayer dollars,” Hayward said. “By using energy more efficiently, the city will save money on utility and fuel costs.”
In addition to talking about attracting jobs to the areas and growth in general, the mayor also spoke about some cuts. The proposed budget calls for a reduction of full-time employees from 860 yo 830, and reduces the number of department heads from 17 to 11.
“Across our city, businesses and families have learned to do more with less,” the mayor said, “and our city government must do the same.”
Perhaps the city’s biggest budgetary concern is the looming pension commitment. Pensacola’s current unfunded liability is above $116 million. Annual pension costs have risen from $3 million in 2003 to $13.7 million in fiscal year 2013.
“That’s more than we’re collecting in ad valorem taxes, and that’s simply not sustainable,” Hayward said, adding that solving the problem would mean making “difficult decisions.”
In closing, the mayor said he would like to see the city become a leader when it comes to technology, education and the environment. He lamented Pensacola’s “potential.”
“Together, we will meet and exceed the expectations of our shareholders, the citizens and taxpayers of our great city,” Hayward said.