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City in a fiscal storm, clerk says


BRADENTON - The city won't have to have any employee layoffs because it's been running "lean" for a while, City Clerk Carl Callahan said.

In fact, some positions that were left open, including three in the Police Department, one in the Fire Department and a few others, can be filled and are secure, for the fiscal year, at least, he said. Other positions are gone for good, though, and the city is short $2.5 million.

Compared to a city "to the south," he said, Bradenton is doing OK with far fewer staffers.

"The budget that's coming forward does not show any actual people losing their jobs," Callahan said. "That was a real goal to try to make that happen."

It's better to keep people in their jobs and maintain their pay and benefits. "For the bulk of our personnel, they had no raises last year and there are no raises in this budget, so it's imperative to try to not negatively impact them as much as we can," he said. "They work hard."

The city has always had a low headcount, and that makes eliminating jobs difficult compared to cities with large numbers of workers. Some departments will have a problem when things are normal, but peak demand will slow down the ability to respond. "We're not able to budget for peak operations," Callahan admitted.

The process has gone on since the beginning of the year. The city does not have significant valuations and is a blue-collar community, and people have always expected great services at a low cost, but that cannot continue. "We are what we are here," he said. "Relative to other cities that have comparable tax bases, we're performing at very high standards."

Councilman Gene Gallo said it needs to be emphasized that you have to look at other municipalities and tax bases to compare them with Bradenton. "We're doing a doggone good job in providing municipal services to people in the city of Bradenton," he said.

Sarasota has a millage rate of just 2.7, much lower than Bradenton, "but their tax base is enormous," he said. The public safety department, just the police, has a $27 million budget. You can't broadly look at the city without being aware of the differences.

"You're actually the kingpin to keep us in line," Gallo told Callahan, "because you understand the revenue choices."

The larger economy has affected the city. The city raised the millage rate to 4.75 to re-equip the police, and got told by the Legislature to cut millage rates, and then got hit with the recession.

Councilman Bemis Smith said it's important to look at the total tax burden being carried by citizens.

Councilman Patrick Roff pointed out that the city has seen its revenue decline in the past few years.

"From what citizens said to me, they want budgets cut until it hurts," he said. "Well, we're here now. It's an experiment that was voted for with Amendment 1 and that's what we're dealing with.

We've gone from $15.245 million to $12.868 million in revenue, he said.

And the city's proceeds at the latest rate is actually down about $40,000 from before, Callahan said.

Smith said the city has taken a financial hit from the recession, as citizens have. "We are working to get our tax revenues down to relieve some of the tax burden on folks," he said.

And other revenues are going down, Callahan said, such as from the state, so the city needs a budget that will be sustainable and not reliant on reserves. "I can certainly make it work this year, but what scares me is that there are a lot of one-time sources of revenue in this budget that won't be there next year," he said. "Which could cause more severe cuts next year if we don't see an increase in revenues."

We've asked the people to "suck it up" this year, Callahan said, to deal with the budget. So now, he said, they can fill back to their 2009-10 budgeted positions.

They can start to fill those positions and have saved the money that they needed to save. They just have to check to be sure they're funded, and then they can be filled, he said.

"What positions are we talking about?" Smith asked.

The three positions below 120 in the Police Department and one in the Fire Department, Callahan said.

They're funded at the current millage, he said. "Now that we know that we're pretty much at this level, this was the time frame, then I think it's safe to fill those back, and I'm asking you guys to let that happen."

Smith said that not seeing anyone up in arms, it seemed to be OK.


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