MARCO ISLAND — Florida cities and counties reported their final 2010 budgets as required by Oct. 1, as did Marco— three weeks later, however, Marco’s budget is still receiving tweaks.
Vice Chairman Frank Recker quipped to his colleagues during continued budget discussions Monday with this rhetorical question: “Does anyone want to get the 2010 budget done before 2012?”
To that, council gave direction that an amendment to the budget should be complete by December if possible.
Anticipating continued declines in property values and tougher years ahead economically for the city, council urged City Manager Steve Thompson to cut more expenses from the city budget and to put the money in unrestricted reserves.
City Councilman Bill Trotter spearheaded the effort and urged that any cuts be made proportionally from operations and from projects. Operation expenses are primarily personnel-related and are the day-to-day costs of running an organization as opposed to building something or taking on a new project.
Trotter said looking at cutting operational expenses takes a more detailed look than going after one or two projects. The city’s total budget including the utility and all funds is about $80 million.
“I’ve worked with $15 billion organizations that look at these things in a lot more detail,” Trotter said.
“We need to restore the public confidence.”
To that, Thompson agreed.
“I want to get you comfortable with the level of scrutiny,” he said.
Trotter was dissatisfied with Thompson’s recommendations Monday and the two will work together to develop a new plan.
Several cuts were proposed to save about $420,000.
The city had approved a millage rate of 1.65 mils, or $1.65 per $1,000 of property value. Under Trotter’s suggestion, the city is now to budget to a rate of 1.6 mils and put the rest in a contingency or reserve fund. Each mil is equivalent to about $850,000, so by budgeting to a half mil less than approved, the city needs to cut about $425,000.
Trotter suggested the budget process needs to change as the economy has changed. He recommended ongoing reports of forecast costs versus actual spending and beefing up reserves.
Public Information Coordinator Lisa Douglass outlined some of the challenges of the budget process and compared it to a kid in the candy store.
“I want all the candy, but I only have $5.”
She also said the community was split between those who wanted particular services and others who wanted to cut expenses.
Resident Larry Magel agreed with Trotter on the desire for a productivity committee to continue looking at opportunities to save without cutting services.
“If we could, this would be the year to start saving some money before we get in a real crunch next year,” Magel said.
Resident Joe Granda wasn’t pleased with prior recommendations of what to cut. He said it seemed the most important services were put on the chopping block first.
“If I want to lose weight, I would not amputate my leg. I would reduce the fat,” he said.
Former City Councilman John Arceri agreed and said it was time to put some money aside for tough days ahead.
Recker asked Arceri: “What did Council do with all that money in the good years?”
Arceri responded: “We kept lowering the millage rate. If we didn’t, we’d be boiled in oil.”
“That’s right,” Marco Island Taxpayers’ Association President Fay Biles said from the audience.
MITA board member Linda McCune wasn’t impressed by the excuses and complaints.
McCune said the tax rate went down 3 to 5 percent in previous years but assessed values were going up 20 to 30 percent.
“It was spent on large projects ... It’s extremely disingenuous for people to come in and start fussing,” she said.