Notes: City budget workshop 4.14.08 – Part 1

April 14 Pensacola City Council Committee of the Whole budget workshop notes:

The mood was somber and tense, at times, as city department heads methodically gave council members their summaries of priorities and cutbacks–including the losses of jobs and services.

At the start of the meeting, Deputy Mayor John Jerralds indicated Mayor John Fogg was in the building and would arrive soon. But Fogg never showed. Councilman Jack Nobles was also absent.

The proposed General Fund 30-month budget, from this month to September 2010, reduces expenditures for FY 2009 from the FY 2008 beginning budget by $4.7 million, or 9.8 percent.

What does that mean to city residents?

Among many other things: The Police Department’s tactical squad, which works robberies, burglaries and other major crimes, especially at night, will be eliminated; two Fire Department rescue units will disappear; no tree planting or pruning will be done by city staff for seven months, and no raises will be given to city staffers in 2009 or 2010.

The preliminary budget passed unanimously.

Seventy-nine full-time positions and 26 extra personnel service positions will no longer be funded through the General Fund, according to a memo. But there will not be layoffs of full-time employees, as the positions will be eliminated through attrition, consolidation, and other means.

“Layoff avoidance can be accomplished in this manner because the City first took action in February 2007 to institute a hiring freeze (except Police and Fire) as a result of the Cox Communication (tax collection) issue, and continued the hiring freeze in anticipation of the passage of Amendment 1,” according to City Manager Tom Bonfield’s memo to the committee.

“…It is anticipated that over the next 2 to 5 years, 17 positions can be deleted through attrition as the more senior employees retire.
Bonfield said he and others have compared the budget to a “perfect storm.”

“There is a need for a more “stable and predictable budget plan,” Bonfield continued. “Does it maintain every department? No.”

The city manager said he had been out in the field to talk with city staffers, who asked if they can rely on this budget, to which Bonfield replied, “yes.”

“Our employees are looking for some stability and predictability.”
City Finance Director Dick Barker projected 2010 to be worse for the city financially.

Barker said the City Council reserve and the library system, with the exception of pay raises, will not be affected by the current 30-month budget.

Pensacola Police Department Chief John Mathis called the budget a “win-win for everybody,” though his plain clothes tactical squad will be moved to the cop squad. Mathis said he can’t say there aren’t going to be any consequences, “but it’s going to be minimal, in my opinion.”

Fire and police dispatch will also be consolidated.

Bonfield asked Mathis to discuss patrol units, investigations, traffic and narcotics–which should not be affected.
Councilman Mike Wiggins asked Mathis how the elimination of the tactical unit would affect the business community, suggesting he give business owners a heads up.

“I just think that would be a good PR move, if nothing else,” Wiggins said.

Mathis said response time could be affected, but he doesn’t see it.
After inquiries from the Committee, Diane Mack stood up to ask about audience members’ asking questions. Bonfield initially said comments only–no questions.

But Mack, who has formed a citizens group to study the budget, and others proceeded to ask questions during the remainder of the meeting.

At that time, Mack asked why the Police Department needs a $90,000 media relations person. She did not get an immediate response

Stay tuned for Fire and other departments.