Vero Beach Mayor Sawnick wants all ideas on ways to trim city budget

VERO BEACH – Mayor Kevin Sawnick, who floated an idea earlier this year that the city should plan for a 10 percent reduction in staffing next year, has asked his fellow council members to bring forth cost-cutting ideas.

“No crazy idea should be left out,” Sawnick said.

The City of Vero Beach started out the year with a budget calling for 508 full-time and 41 part-time employee. Actual employment as of early this week was 483 full-time and 25 part-time employees.

City-hired actuary Rocky Joyner reminded the council the during a special meeting that, despite recent efforts to begin to trim the number of employees, the city’s payroll keeps growing.

He said the payroll has increased by $2.3 million in one year, including $280,000 in pension contributions this year.

Sawnick said he is researching what it would cost to have a “functional capacity evaluation” of the city staff to determine if the taxpayers are getting their money’s worth from every employee.

“I know the city gets some flack from people about the staffing levels,” Sawnick said. “I think we need to have someone come in to look at our staffing levels and to look at certain positions.”

The mayor also suggested resurrecting and revamping a long-defunct program that the city used to have. That program provided economic incentives to employees who offer tangible ways to cut the budget in their own city departments.

“I’m confident that employees are always looking for ways to save on the budget, but sometimes it helps to have a monetary incentive,” Sawnick said.

Mayor Sawnick said he wanted the staff and council to take a hard look at changing or reducing the amount of money the city transfers into the general fund from utility receipts.

“Hopefully we can come up with some good ideas to make everyone happy,” he said, adding that he is optimistic about finding ways to make cuts internally and maintain an optimum level of service to residents.

Former Councilman Charlie Wilson reminded members of the council that he intends to have a referendum placed on the ballot that would amend the city charter, disallowing an electric utility as a permitted city function.

“One of the questions that perhaps you should ask yourselves, is what the result would be, what the impact would be of dissolving the department that operates the electric utility?” Wilson said.

Wilson cited an example of a deal brokered by the City of St. Cloud in which the Orlando Utilities Commission took over all of its employees and, after a period of time, its pension liabilities.

“You may want to consider that in your deliberations,” Wilson said, urging the council to have the actuary crunch numbers that would take this into account.

The council did not comment on Wilson’s reference to the referendum.

Sawnick asked his fellow officials to take everything they had heard and received into consideration, and come back in June to set policies that will determine how the city crafts its budget going forward.

“You’ve given us a lot of homework to do between now and our next budget hearing,” City Councilman Tom White said. “We can really cut some corners next year and still bring the quality of life that we’re used to.”

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