Saturday, March 10, 2012

The City Budget Battle is On

It is time for that annual City government exercise called the Budget. In St. Petersburg this year the budget cycle is going to be a bit different. In the last election one of the Charter amendments requires the Mayor to bring a balanced budget to the City Council.

In the past, the administration would bring a budget that was NOT balanced to City Council putting Council in the position of making the painful cuts. It was kind of fun forcing the elected folks to squirm with the painful stuff of budget reductions.

This approach was one of former Council Member Herb Polson's biggest frustrations. He sponsored the Balanced Budget Charter amendment this year, which passed. The administration must bring a balanced budget to City Council, and Council needs to force the Mayor to do just that. No laundry lists, no alternatives - a balanced budget.

The first rough projection (the shock and awe number) is a $10 million shortfall on a $199 million operating budget. That is just about 5%. That $10 million figure is before some significant costs are in, such as healthcare insurance increases, pension increases, utility and other fixed costs that may increase.

The shortfall will likely drop with home sales increasing and sales tax revenue up a bit. The final number should be in 5 to 7 million dollar range. But if any of the unknown costs shoot up, they could soak up the likely revenue increases.

With the departure of new Budget Director Matt Spoor, former Safety Harbor City Manager who left just about as quickly as he was hired, it is unclear who is really running the budget process.

City Administrators, Directors and Managers are a well seasoned group. There are still some here who worked on the Dome. They are, for the most part, very good at what they do. They know how to put together a budget and they know how to build "flexibility" in to those line items.

Whoever manages the Budget process is in for a real challenge as the administration tries to tuck money in and around the normal budget for the Pier, the new Police Building, support for the Rays.

A new person here, a few bucks there so we can do this or that study, few more dollars for marketing, some extra money in Down Town Development all in the budget but off the record and not part of the $50 million cap for the Pier. All of this while trying to cut up to 10 Million from the 2012 budget. Should be intresting.


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