Vero approves furloughs, layoffs may be next

By Lisa ZahnerVERO BEACH — The Vero Beach City Council adopted furloughs for all city workers except uniformed police officers Tuesday, amounting to one unpaid day off per month and a 5 percent cut in pay. For a full-time employee making $25,000 per year, that’s $1,250 less in their pocket. City Hall will not close on those days. Instead, employees will schedule the time so they can cover for each other on days off. Councilman Kevin Sawnick acknowledged that times are tough all over the country and he reminded his colleagues exactly what they were doing by forcing employees to take furloughs. “Obviously it’s a hard time when you’re seeing furloughs,” he said. “It pretty much equates to a pay cut, but it’s tough times.”The measure was necessary due to a combination of factors, one being reduced property tax value in the city and another being reduced state cost-sharing funds coming to Vero Beach. The furloughs will save approximately $1 million in the coming year.City Manager Jim Gabbard estimates the city will be ending the current fiscal year on Sept. 30 with a budget deficit of about $1.7 million. He said that number would have been closer to $3 million, but measures were taken mid-year to reduce expenditures. The city has eliminated dozens of jobs, mostly by not filling open positions or not replacing personnel who are retiring. The positions that were eliminated will save another $1 million on top of the furloughs.The economic downturn has led to numerous city departments dipping into the red by tens of millions of dollars since the beginning of the summer. Gabbard assured the council that he and Finance Director Steve Maillet would do everything in their power to prevent such budget surprises in the future.”We’re going to be monitoring our situation monthly and the only place we can go is layoffs,” Gabbard said. “You have made it clear that the reserves are off-limits and we’re actually in pretty good shape with the reserves.”We’re not going to get into a negative position again,” Gabbard said. “It’s positions and services that we’re going to be affecting going forward.”Councilwoman Debra Fromang alluded to the outcry the city heard from the public at proposed cuts to popular recreation programs and venues, including the Royal Palm Pointe fountain, which was put back into the budget after a public protest. She asked the residents to give her input on which services they would be willing to give up should further cuts be needed. As recreation is more of a luxury item compared to more essential services, she said those programs and facilities may be the first place the city looks should it fall on hard times mid-year.”You have to let me know, I need to know if you could have recreation cut,” she said.The City Council also ratified an agreement with the local Teamsters union. The agreement was necessary in order to furlough the employees represented by that group. To save some jobs, Teamsters representative Steve Myers said his members agreed to the furloughs for one year, but got a couple of concessions from the city to do so.”First of all we got a one-year renewal of our contract and we also got the 14 percent increase in dependent care absorbed by the city,” Myers said.City employees will be paying 14 percent more for their share of health premiums for spouses and children come October. Myers estimated that for a worker with a spouse and children, this increase could amount to between $40 and $50 per month. The city will pay the increase for Teamster employees who work in the parks, public works and utilities deparments. This would help cushion the blow of the pay cuts due to furloughs for employees with families.The City Council also voted to keep the property tax rate for the city at 1.94, which means homeowners will pay $1.94 for every $1,000 in assessed, non-homestead value in the coming year. This will mean a tax reduction for most homeowners as property values have gone down. The budget retainsx transfers into the general fund from the struggling electric, water and sewer utilities to keep the millage rate at its current level.The City Council meets next on Sept. 15 to discuss the proposed rates for electric, water and sewer utility customers.

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