Winter Park’s latest effort to cut city spending might cost some city employees their jobs.
The City Commission looked at reducing its fiscal year 2015 general fund budget by $500,000 at its meeting last Monday – a cut in spending that won’t be possible without layoffs or the elimination of a city project, City Manager Randy Knight said.
The general fund consists of the city’s many departments, including police, fire, parks and recreation, public works, information technology, communications and others. The proposed cut would be taken evenly from all the city divisions to total the $500,000, Knight said.
But in the worst-case scenario – where the budget cut is made entirely out of salaries – 10 to 12 employees would be laid off, Knight said.
“Our operating budgets are so tight that I would not be able to do it without there being people involved,” Knight said. “That in turn would affect services in some way.”
Mayor Ken Bradley, who recommended the budget cut for consideration, said he hoped to keep spending down in order to keep the city’s reserves up.
“As I looked at our general fund, there were tremendous increases in different categories,” Bradley said. “But my principal is I don’t want to spend more money than we take in. That’s a situation that could get us into a very negative financial situation.”
“I came to office when this city had reserves of less than 3 or 4 percent, because former commissioners had frankly spent money in ways that they, at the time, thought they were making good decisions but almost bankrupted this city. I will never let that happen on my watch.”
That low point for the general fund came as the result of a nearly $4 million settlement in 2007 to stop a condominium tower from being built next to Central Park, which was immediately followed by a global recession and the largest two-year drop in housing values — and property tax revenues — in city history.
The proposed $500,000 budget cut comes in a year that has seen local housing values jump 15 percent in the past 12 months and all-time record highs in the Dow Jones Industrial average, but sluggish job growth.
One alternative to layoffs would be cutting projects. Knight said the city’s railroad quiet zone project would be the most logical to cut, though Winter Park has looked closely at that endeavor for at least three years, raising grant money to help pick up the cost.
A railroad quiet zone would allow the city to prohibit trains from blaring their whistles along certain sections of track. The city would build a combination of new fences, railroad gates and medians at all of the city’s 16 crossings to further bar residents from getting through by car or on foot in the absence of the train whistle.
City Commissioners had just voted to move into a design phase for the project in February.
“I wish they called them ‘safety zones’ rather than ‘quiet zones,’” Leary said following the City Commission’s Feb. 3 meeting. “I’ve seen cars coming up at intersections and get caught on the other side of the [railroad] gates. This kind of thing helps prevent that.”
The spending cut would need to be approved by three City Commissions before it’s added to the tentative budget, Knight said.
So far no other Commissioner has spoken out in agreement, he said.