Brooksville City Council held a six-and-a-half hour Budget Workshop on August 13, 2018, where the members discussed the budgets of several funds, most of them under the Public Works Department. Salary increases for city employees were discussed in greater detail, with the entire council in agreement with a salary increase for non-management or executive employees, up to 5%. Merit increases for manager-level and above were also discussed.
Other initiatives for the coming fiscal year were Fire and Police Pension impacts, and the city’s possible liability for $810,000.
Fleet and Sanitation
Public Works Director Richard Radacky began the session presenting his Fleet and Sanitation budget for Fiscal Year 2018-2019 (FY18-19)
Council Member William Kemerer, who is a retired finance professional spent some extra time scrutinizing the budget for Fleet and Sanitation. “I want to make sure we’re not over budgeting anything,” Kemerer said, expressing his discomfort over increases in numbers from the prior fiscal year so shortly after the recent budget crisis that was the impetus for the disbanding of the Brooksville Police Department. “We went through this last year, and I hoped we wouldn’t have to do it again this year, but I’m going to do it again this year to get these numbers back down to where they belong.”
The council members, Radacky and Finance Director Jim Delach discussed numerous items in detail listed in the 106-page budget, particularly new items and those showing increases.
During the July 23, 2018 meeting, the council questioned the city’s responsibility to provide work boots and Gatorade for city employees, and ultimately voted to keep the items in the budget.
Total fleet expenses have increased from $95,019.87 to $109,192.97, a $14,173.10 increase in the budget from last year, of which, $10,000 is slated for a vehicle lift used to service city vehicles. Sanitation expenses have also increased $18,066.56 due to reported increased costs of fuel, repair supplies and solid waste disposal. Sanitation personnel costs are reported to be decreased by approximately $36,000.
In studying the sanitation division’s reserve fund, Kemerer noted that it currently contains over one year worth of revenue. “Is there a reason why we need to carry that size reserve? We’re accumulating a huge stockpile of cash, we really can’t use it anywhere else. Are we just accumulating cash because we can? It’s our resident’s money (commercial and residential). I don’t want to get anybody too excited here, but if there’s a way we can give our residents a break, and our commercial businesses a break, then maybe we should look at reducing these rates.” He noted the incremental additions to the reserve fund over four years, and said, “If we were an independent, for-profit corporation, this would be great, but as a governmental agency, is this somewhere we can give our taxpayers a break, and make us more competitive when people are deciding if (they) want to live in the city or the county.” Kemerer directed city staff to consider this finding.
City Manager Mark Kutney cautioned that the reserve is an enterprise fund, one that can only be used for a specific purpose, in this case, for the needs of the sanitation division. Kutney acknowledged that an often-heard complaint is that the division’s salaries are low, sometimes requiring help from job agencies.
Vice Mayor Robert Battista agreed with Kemerer, adding, “If we’ve had this trouble keeping people, then we should have been spending that reserve instead of putting it in the bank. We had the capital all along to pay those wages … that should have been identified.” He agreed that the rate at which the reserve is funded should be reduced, and perhaps offering rebates to the taxpayers, or keeping the fund as-is for now.
During the discussion, it was mentioned that the reserve could be easily depleted due to a tropical event, until the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) would reimburse the city several months later. The abundant reserve would also be a crucial source during another recession.
Water and Sewer
Explanations for increases in overtime are mostly attributed to problems occuring during heavy rain periods. Personnel are often called to address water equipment issues during non-business hours. Water department staff are equipped with mobile applications that allow them to control power to water towers, pumps, pump stations and wells within the city.
Approximately $288,000 is allocated for electricity to run all the water and sewer equipment, with the highest costs occurring during summer months. Included in this amount is the new booster station installed at Southern Hills Plantation to remedy significant water pressure problems.
The department also has increased expenses for new computer mapping software.
Fire and Police Pension Impacts
In conversations recently with the Vose Law Firm, and other parties involved, Mark Kutney reported that the city is approximately $810,000 short in available funds for the police pension fund. More information was not available during the meeting, but will be discussed soon.
Employee Raises, Upgrades, Employee Evaluations and Merit Pay
Even though an $810,000 liability may exist, the council still wants to move forward with raises for city employees.
Delach presented a simple table showing the cost of employee raises for the entire city, with the high-end at 5%. Such raises for the entire payroll, including directors and managers would cost the city $210,636.
During the July meeting, Vice Mayor Robert Battista opened the discussion of raises at the rate of 4%. Council Member Joe Bernardini opposed giving raises at that time, having in mind the city recently closed the police department in order to cut costs. Mayor Betty Erhard agreed with the poor timing, and how the raises would be viewed by the public. Erhard also thought 4% was high, and prefers a 3% rate.
An initiative City Manager Mark Kutney is planning is development of a merit-based program to fairly evaluate employees and assign raises based on those evaluations. Kutney also mentioned classification updates and corrections, as he did in July, to determine employees actual roles with respect to their titles. The council is not planning to hire an outside consultant.
For the coming fiscal year, Battista suggests raises for all employees as the city determines and implements a merit-based system or cost of living adjustment (COLA). He also suggested a higher starting salary for the fire department to retain firefighters.
Councilman Kemerer is in favor of a 5% cost of living increase, possibly only for non-management employees, in line with Bernardini, Young and Battista. Mayor Betty Erhard supports merit increase for management and a 3% raise for non-management. Erhard said during final Items by Council, “We did just disband the police department and just because we have extra money doesn’t mean we should go right up to 5%.”
Special Revenue Funds
There are several funds that are no longer relevant with the closure of the police department. According to Finance Director Jim Delach, his research into what can be done with these funds is inconclusive, so balances in those accounts will be discussed in a later meeting.
Water connection fees and wastewater connection fees are income sources with no projected expenditures in the coming fiscal year. City staff will investigate to find if reclaimed water expansion can be funded with reserves in these funds.
Howell Avenue sidewalks are to be funded by the Local Option Gas Tax, a distribution received by the state from collected gas taxes.
Capital Improvements Maintenance
Capital Improvement Plans were discussed in the July 23rd meeting, and the need for better documentation and follow-through. The 2019-2020 budget is expected to reflect a six-year capital improvements and maintenance program, described as a “big initiative for next year” by Kutney.
Some of the funded projects in the new fiscal year include; City Hall second-floor restroom renovations are expected to cost approximately $12,000. Delach also reported the desire to start an air-conditioning replacement fund to collect $25,000 per year. Parks and Recreation’s press box roof is to cost $6,500, and the roof over the McKethan restroom is expected to be around $5,500.