Fort Myers Budget Options

06/29/2010

Fort Myers Presents 4 Budget Options

Potential $10.7 million shortfall leads to pay cuts
BY JEN CALANTONE • JCALANTONE@NEWS-PRESS.COM • JUNE 29, 2010

Fort Myers city officials have no plans for layoffs next budget year thanks to union concessions, money from reserve funds and an increase in property taxes. In Monday’s preliminary budget workshop, budget manager Christine Tenney presented four options, with varying property tax rates and service reductions.
The city’s proposed budget is $82 million, compared with the current $87.5 million. The city manager’s office has been working with the police and fire unions as well as general union and nonunion employees to help shrink a possible $10.7 million shortfall, Tenney said.
Most city employees will take a 10 percent pay cut, she said. Tenney estimated these concessions will cover $6.4 million of the budget shortfall. The office is still working with the fire union on concessions.
“These are very significant in helping resolve our shortfall. It was huge,” Tenney said. “I applaud all these actions taken by these union groups.”
The city manager’s staff recommended a tax rate of $8.40 per $1,000 of taxable property to help fix the shortfall, Tenney said. This would be an increase from $7.40 per thousand this year.
A rise in the tax rate does not necessarily mean residents will be paying more taxes, said Councilman Thomas Leonardo. Property values have dropped enough that an increase in tax rates would not increase taxes.
Another option would be not raising the tax rate. That scenario would mean about 30 people would lose their jobs, Tenney said.
This, however, would be the “worst-case scenario,” she said.
To raise property taxes to $8.40 per $1,000, the City Council needs a majority vote. Any increase higher than that would require a two-thirds majority. The property tax is one of the taxes Fort Myers residents have to pay. Others include school and water management taxes.
Councilmen Forrest Banks and Michael Flanders asked about the possibility of digging further into reserve money to pay for any hits that public safety would have from the budget cut.
City Manager William Mitchell must present a balanced budget by the next workshop meeting July 26. The council should pass the budget at its Sept. 27 meeting, and it will take effect on Oct. 1.
Danette Fasanella of Fort Myers said she does not want to see any more public safety officials lose their jobs. “Who’s going to move to a city that cuts their police officers and code enforcement?” she said. “There is a lot of money here that’s not being spent the right way.”

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