Notes: City budget workshop, Part 2

April 14 City budget workshop – Part 2:

Keep in mind, city officials’ talking points include “rightsizing” the budget to “maintain core and priority services.”

Next up: Fire Department.

Fire Chief Frank Edwards said there will be no reduction of fire suppression units. But two staffed rescue units will be eliminated through attrition over the next five years.

Edwards said he has talked with Escambia County officials about working with the city regarding rescue units. The county could offer two units, but they could be physically located in the county when they are needed in the city.

Also, one vacant firefighter position will be eliminated in 2009, and the tuition reimbursement program is frozen. Next year, it will go away.

Councilman Marty Donovan asked Edwards how many rescue units there are now, and how many will remain. They will go from three to one.

An audience member asked Edwards and Council members why the fire pensions are so much higher than police, especially when there are fewer people.

The next speaker, Bob Sumner of Firefighters Local 707, cut to the chase as he talked about consequences of the budget to the fire department, which he said is already not fully staffed and up to par. Sumner began by talking about a fellow firefighter who died during what he called a “routine” house fire in 2000.

“We killed a fireman,” Sumner said.

A resulting investigation by fire organizations/governing bodies resulting in seven recommendations for improvement within the
city department, Sumner said.

One of the requirements for working a fire, Sumner added, citing Florida Statute 633 and the OCEA law, is that the department operates with a four-man crew, two people inside and two out. The city has worked in three-men crews, Sumner said.

And especially with the cuts, he said, “We are not going to be able to meet the two in, two out rule.

“It’s not a recommendation,” Sumner said. “It’s a law.”
Regarding rescues, Sumner added, “When we know there’s absolutely nobody behind us, it will be hard for us to go in to risk our lives.”

Sumner also predicted Stations 2 and 3 will be affected most by the cuts.

“I just don’t think the citizens have asked for this. They need to know there’s going to be more damages to their property and more damages to us. This is a huge safety issue for us.”

Chief Edwards said there are allowances for the fire organizations’ rules.

Councilman Ronald Townsend asked Edwards if he is comfortable with the current proposal. “Yes sir,” Edwards said.

But the chief admitted, “There may be times when we are impacted by this…”

“The difference will be gradual over time–this is where we’ll be in five years.”
Next up: Parks and Recreation Director Dave Flaherty.
The department is eliminating 13 positions, including one in upper management. All of them have all been unfilled.
From this month through October, no tree planting or pruning will
be done.

“That’s where you’ll see the issues,” Flaherty said.

The tree crew program is being consolidated with parks landscaping maintenance. Work on any emergency tree removals will be contracted out and funded by the Tree Trust Fund.

The staffs at Bayview and Malcolm Young community centers will also be outsourced. The Bayview Community Center will close, and many other centers will shut down on Saturdays, except for some youth sports events.

Flaherty said on the surface Bayview’s closure appears to only save the city $40,000, but it’s actually $110,000 to $120,000 when the staff reductions are accounted for.

The department’s other cuts (totaling $1.2 million) include reduced janitorial services at City Hall, and canceling the Senior Games unless a sponsor comes forward.

Also, Flaherty said, Parks and Recreation gets 9 cents for every dollar it spends, “and we really need to bring that up a little bit.”
The director added that his priorities are parks and building maintenance, followed by youth sports programs.

Donovan asked Flaherty his rationale behind closing the Bayview Center, which the director has given previously.

Flaherty said he came to the conclusion based on the low attendance there, and the fact that other centers have openings.
The Bayview Senior Center, park, and dog park will remain open.
Flaherty said a decision on the city-owned Osceola Golf Course will need to be made in the next year to two years. The decision would be to improve it or look at other alternatives.

“Osceola is just not getting enough rounds,” Flaherty said. “People are going elsewhere.”

Councilman Sam Hall said he could not defend maintaining Osceola in the budget climate we’re in now.

Public Works Director Al Garza: Responses to work orders, such as sidewalk maintenance, have slowed somewhat, Garza said.
Five positions will be deleted, mainly from the traffic control maintenance area. The results will be reductions to traffic striping, traffic control, and in-house signage. Some of the work may have to be outsourced.

Garza also indicated there may be savings from parades, as the department is in “cost recovery mode.” And the director pointed out that the $700,000 or so projected for street lighting and maintenance is based on 2008 estimates. Hence, the figures will likely increase by 2010.

Jerralds said he’d like to know, in the future, if there are restrictions that prevent them from using prison labor.

Community Development Director Thaddeus Cohen:
The Community Development and Community Redevelopment Agency departments will be consolidated, resulting in the elimination of six positions.

Wiggins expressed concern about the umbrella economic development efforts, and asked if the city can still respond satisfactorily to business people despite the cutbacks.

Cohen said yes, with the help of others, such as Ed Spears, the city’s neighborhood and economic development administrator (who’s also interim director of the Community Maritime Park Associates board), the Chamber of Commerce, and the Downtown Improvement Board.

The lack of an environmental services administrator was also discussed briefly.

Cohen said they’re able to access some Escambia County employees to do environmental work.

Bonfield suggested the Department of Environmental Protection, City Engineering Director Derrik Owens, or outside consultants. “It’s done on a case by case basis,” the city manager said.

Hall echoed the Mayor Fogg’s comments recently when he asked for how much longer Ed Spears will serve as the CMPA’s interim director, in addition to his city position.

“Be mindful of how thin he’s stretched,” Hall said.

Donovan then asked if the CMPA is reimbursing Spears’ salary for the daytime work he does for its board. “We’ve given that board $2.4 million. The city taxpayers should be reimbursed,” Donovan said.

Next up: Audience member Rhette Anderson, who’s running for the council, which Hall pointed out after Anderson spoke. The candidate said the council is cutting costs but not doing anything to increase revenues. Anderson also suggested city and county consolidation.

Then, briefly, terse words and tension between Anderson and Hall.
Diane Mack urged the council to save $133,000 by abolishing the civil service board through legislative action. She called the civil service positions “duplication.”

Donovan said he talked to Bonfield about it the day before.
Though there was discussion the move couldn’t be effective in the 2009 FY, a motion to bring the issue back to the table passed unanimously.

Next up: Representatives from social service agencies with passionate pleas for their programs.

Bonfield said he is not ready to present the specifics of the cuts to economic development, social service and arts organizations. But a 50 percent reduction, or $500,000, for FY 2009 and an additional cut of $100,000 in 2010 is at stake.

Jean Norman, president and CEO of the United Way of Escambia County, said the amount appropriated for human services organizations last year was $89,000. But the return on the investment “far exceeds that amount,” Norman said.

The appropriation draws $140,000 in matching funds. The monies also, Norman said, go toward things like “very discreet backpacks” that hold two hot meals for Hallmark Elementary school students.
Norman also introduced representatives from the American Red Cross and Big Brothers/Big Sisters who discussed how their funds from the city help clients and what losing the money would mean in terms of programs and matching funds.

The mother of a 5-year-old girl who attends the Pearl Nelson Child Development Center of ARC Gateway, which receives United Way funding, also pleaded with the council to not make cuts from the human services organizations.

Diane Mack followed by saying she hated to be a grinch, but that the council “shouldn’t be funneling dollars to social service organizations” in the first place.

“Then, you are acting as a foundation,” said Mack, who added in that case, there is a very formal process for applying for funds.

Councilman Mike DeSorbo said they discuss the issue every year when they talk about funding outside agencies.

Lastly, changes to city fees and rates are being considered, though they were not used to balance the 30-month budget, according to Bonfield.

Recreational fees, such as a new boat ramp fee, are being considered, as are ways for the fire department to recover the costs of its commercial fire inspections.

Additionally, cost recovery measures within the police and public works departments for parades and special events are being discussed.