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City slashes budget again, anticipating revenue shortfalls

By Staff | Dec 23, 2008

Following Sanibel City Manager Judie Zimomra’s lead, every city department is doing what it can, when it can, to reduce expenses while maintaining the levels of service Sanibel residents have come to expect from their city’s governmental agencies.

In a report made to City Council last week, Zimomra recommended — and the Council approved — a budget amendment that contains a number of new cost-cutting measures which will save the city an additional $105,772 this fiscal year. This figure equals an expected decrease in state shared revenues of the same amount.

Although 85 percent of the city’s revenues come from property taxes, said Zimomra, the remaining 15 percent comes from other sources that depend on a healthy economy. With news of an expected $3.8 billion shortfall in the state’s budget, the City had to anticipate and prepare for a corresponding reduction in revenues from state sources.

“Every time revenue is cut from the state, we need to meet that cut,” explained Zimomra. “We need to be ahead of that — if the economy goes in the same direction that it is going. We need to anticipate adjustments.”

Keeping a trained expert eye on economic indicators such as the number of passengers disembarking at Southwest Florida International Airport, as well as causeway traffic numbers and reported hotel occupancy rates, Zimomra does her best to predict revenue fluctuations before they happen — and make budgetary adjustments as necessary.

“We’re still within our cushion,” said Zimomra, “and we’re trying to stay ahead of the curve here.”

The bulk of this most recent budget reduction comes from the City’s Police Department, which recently experienced vacancies in three full-time positions. Chief Bill Tomlinson recommended a number staffing changes that will reduce the department’s overall budget by approximately $67,400, while maintaining current service levels, explained Zimomra.

Under Tomlinson’s redistribution of duties, one full-time police officer and one full-time dispatcher will be replaced with part-time employees, eliminating overtime, benefit and pension obligations. A vacant full-time traffic aid position will be eliminated outright.

Chief Tomlinson said that it was important, especially during tough economic times when hardship typically leads to a spike in crime, to maintain police department strength.

“And we’ve accomplished that with part-time assistance, without harm to residents,” he said.

Additional sources of savings in this most recent round of budget cut-backs were realized by making reductions in contractual services and transportation budgets in the administrative, legal and natural resources departments, as well as cutting back on books, publications and other charges in the planning department.

This most recent cost-cutting measure marks the third such time that major reductions have been made to the city’s 2008-09 fiscal year budget since it was enacted on Oct. 1. In October, the Council approved the postponement of several capital improvement projects at a savings of $1.2 million. An additional $330,000 was cut from the city’s operating budget at the same time, allowing for a total cost savings of $1.5 million to be transferred to the city’s reserves to be available in the event of an emergency. The council reserves the right to resurrect those postponed projects if the reserve funds are still available at a later date.

In November, a position in the Public Works Department was eliminated, and its duties combined with an existing position in the Utilities Division, at a savings of about $60,000 in salary and benefit expenses.