City Manager Rick Fernandez claims that the changes proposed by StarMetro will
be vetted by a public meeting process but note that StarMetro's budget has
already been reduced by $1.3 million. This is not about making StarMetro more
efficient, it is about cutting services to the people that rely on the bus. If
this were really about making things more efficient, the public meetings would
have come long before the budget cut. Much like with the so called 'listening
sessions' that preceded the Nova2010 debacle, these new public meetings that
will be held are a pointless exercise since the big decisions have already been
made by the people who don't ride the bus, bowing to pressure from the Budget
Hawks. I guess the part that aggravates me the most is the city's unwillingness
to call it like it really is; they've decided that the people that ride the bus
just aren't as important as the Budget Hawks so they're acting accordingly.
City of Tallahassee officials unveiled a $701.5 million operating budget for
the 2016-17 fiscal year Monday afternoon.
It's about $5 million less than this year's budget.
City budget director Robert Wigen attributed the decrease to efficiencies in
StarMetro, plus savings on infrastructure, personnel costs, fuel and other
operating expenses. The plan also includes millions more for road maintenance
Walker-Ford hosting city budget workshop
The plan does not include a property tax rate increase. Last year, the city
offered a 27 percent property tax rate bump to pay for 18 new police officers.
The issue elicited strong backlash from some residents, who said the city
wasn't doing enough to find savings to offset the costs of the officers.
Commissioners later whittled the increase to 13 percent. But still, some
residents fought commissioners up until they passed the increase and the
$706-million budget in September.
Under the plan, General Fund spending would decrease by $3.2 million to $145.9
million. The General Fund is supported in part by property taxes and pays for
portions of the Tallahassee Police Department and the city's Parks, Recreation
and Neighborhood Affairs Department among others.
"The goal set forth was to develop a budget that reflects the priorities and
values of the entire community while maintaining expenses at the current level
and not increasing the (property tax) rate," City Manager Rick Fernandez said
in the budget proposal. "I'm proud to report that we were able to accomplish
those objectives, while also decreasing both the overall budget and the total
General Fund budget."
City commissioners will discuss the budget at its Monday budget workshop at
Walker-Ford Community Center. They'll hold another budget workshop on July 13.
Formal public hearings will be held at City Commission meetings on Sept. 14 and
Sept. 28. The commission will take a final vote on the spending plan on Sept.
City to consider ending business license tax
The city plans to use about $1.3 million less from its General Fund to support
StarMetro, the city's bus transportation service.
Fernandez said savings will come from restructuring routes, operational
efficiencies and not funding some positions. With the savings and Florida A&M
University not renewing its Venom Express route, StarMetro's budget would be
about $15.6 million in the proposed budget, down from this year's $17.2 million.
Fernandez said eight of the city's 12 routes will be adjusted to increase
frequency during high demand hours and decrease operations during periods of
less demand. The changes, he said, won't occur until they are vetted through a
public meeting process.
StarMetro relies on a yearly transfer from the General Fund. In the current
budget year, StarMetro's $17.2 million budget is propped up by $7.8 million
from the General Fund. The rest is funded by $2.3 million from gas tax
revenues; $2.5 million from its contract with Florida State University;
$550,000 from its FAMU agreement; $1 million from fares, as well as grants and
FAMU to replace StarMetro with shuttles
Positions and raises
The proposed budget would include 10 fewer positions, bringing the total number
of full-time positions to 2,864.5.
The positions were cut earlier this year during Fernandez's reorganization of
city staff and departments. The eliminated positions are expected to save more
than $1 million.
Under the plan, the city's about 1,300 general government employees would
receive 2 percent raises. The dollar amount, Fernandez said, won't come at an
added cost to the city because city directors were told to cut costs in order
to facilitate the pay increases. The average general government employee makes
about $52,000 annually.
About 900 utility employees will also get a 2 percent raise at an extra cost of
between $500,000 and $700,000.
The 374 TPD officers that fall under the agency's collective bargaining
agreement will also get a 2 percent raise. About 70 percent of the officers
will get an extra 4.5 percent as part of a step plan. The raises will cost
about $1.6 million. The average TPD salary is about $66,000 annually.
The city also expects TPD, which has suffered from low staffing and reliance on
overtime, to be at full force next year. As a result, the city hopes to
decrease overtime spending by $334,000.
The city will spend an extra $1.1 million on raises for the 281 Tallahassee
Fire Department employees that fall under the agency's union agreement. All
firefighters will receive 2.5 percent raises and about 70 percent of them will
get an extra 4.5 percent as part of a step plan. The average TFD salary is
$59,000 a year.
On top of the savings, the city will bring in about $2.7 million more in
revenue next year.
That includes an estimated $1.1 million in additional property tax dollars
because taxable property values are expected grow about 3 percent in the city.
Maintaining the current rate is considered a tax increase under state law
because property values increased. To avoid a tax increase, commissioners would
have to reduce the property tax rate.
Capital projects infusion
Using General Fund cuts and revenue increases, the city has proposed spending
about $6 million on general government capital projects for sidewalks, bridges
and road maintenance.
If approved, the city would be funding capital projects at the highest level in
decades. Due to budget constraints, the city said, money for the capital
projects has dwindled over the years. Since 2012, the city has spent an average
of $160,000 yearly on general capital projects.
Fernandez said it was time to restore the funding in order to complete a
waiting list of projects.
“We can’t keep doing this or we’re going to end up looking like a bad city," he
said. “We would hope that these are the levels that we keep moving forward.”
Other features of the city's budget proposal:
$2 million — Community Human Service Partnership.
$500,000 — Office of Economic Vitality incentives
$192,036 — Council on Culture and Arts
$135,575 — HOPE Community, a temporary housing program under the Big Bend
$80,000 — Tallahassee Trust for Historic Preservation
$75,000 — Juvenile assessment and receiving center
$63,800 — Whole Child Leon
$40,000 — United Partners of Human Services
$30,000 — St. Francis Wildlife Association
$29,488 — John G. Riley House and Museum
$25,000 — Keep Tallahassee-Leon County Beautiful Adopt-a-Street