City of Vero Beach considering furloughs to offset reduced revenue

 By Lisa ZahnerVERO BEACH — In response to an estimated $350,000 reduction in revenue from property taxes in the 2009-2010 fiscal year, the City of Vero Beach is looking to cut expenses by requiring its 500 full-time employees take one unpaid day off each month. According to Finance Director Steve Maillet, the $200 million decrease in property values in the City of Vero Beach, combined with reductions in sales tax receipts will leave the city scrambling to balance the budget.”We will try to avoid impinging on services too much, but there’s only so much cutting you can do before you get into service cuts,” Maillet said. “We’re coming in at between a 6 and 7 percent cut, so we’re still doing the math. We’re not planning on closing City Hall one day a week.”One proposal being seriously considered is requiring the city’s employees to coordinate schedules within departments so each employee can take one unpaid day off per month. This would shave approximately 5 percent off the overall payroll budget, but would require negotiations with relevant labor unions if the furlough was to apply to employees covered by collective bargaining agreements. All non-essential overtime has already been eliminated and two city positions – one in the City Clerk’s office and one in the planning department, have already been eliminated due to attrition. The city continues to be under a hiring freeze for any new positions.Steve Myers, business agent for the Teamsters Local 769, who represents nearly half the City’s full-time employees, said he had been told earlier this year that furloughs were a possibility, but that he had not been “formally approached” to begin negotiations. “Our collective bargaining agreement states that the work week will be 40 hours and if there were furloughs, the work week for those weeks would be less than 40 hours,” Myers said. “The City just can’t impose furloughs.”The agreement covers workers in the utilities, public works, parks and recreation departments and lifeguards. Myers said the insitution of furloughs on these workers without coming to an agreement with the union would be a violation of the contract.Maillet said the budget cuts would not effect major capital projects as those are usually funded through the borrowing of money by the city or by grants for specific infrastructure purposes. The budget for the City of Vero Beach totals about $172 million, with $23 million of that coming from the general fund and about $5 million of that being derived from property taxes.  The current millage rate for city property owners is 1.94, or $1.94 for each $1,000 in property value.At this point, administrators are still working with department heads to trim costs where they can and the budget will be compiled after Gabbard returns from vacation. City Council members should receive their budget packets around July 15 to review them for three days of budget workshops scheduled for July 22, 23 and 24. Public hearings on the budget will be held in September.

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