The City of Hollywood recently held a budget workshop to discuss the Fiscal Year 2017 proposed budget. The City is looking at a budget gap of nearly $20 million and is facing challenges in paying pension costs and delivering critical services.
The City spends about $50 million a year to cover pension costs. This is more than half the money the City brings in in property taxes. Health care costs have increased by about $6.7 million. During the meeting, commissioners expressed concern about this reality. Because it is an election year, none of the commissioners want to raise taxes.
The City cannot receive $2.6 million in state chapter funds because of pending litigation involving the 13th check. At this point the city’s three pension boards are saying that the city should provide pensioners a 13th check and the city is saying it should not.
Discussion of transitioning to a four-day, ten-hour-a-day, work week was also entertained. Because of decreased energy and resource costs, this could mean a savings of $300,000. An increase in the fire fee from $209 to $222 would raise $1.6 million. Because of an increase in property values in Hollywood, there will be an extra $1.9 million in property taxes. The proposed millage or property tax rate is 7.4479.
Because of the budget gap, City Manager Dr. Wazir Ishmael has told department heads to shave five percent from their budget, which means hiring freezes. 45 positions have been frozen to save about $7 million including 11 sworn police officer positions, 14 civilian positions, three firefighter positions, two code enforcement positions and nine public works positions. Also, 31 part-time Beach Safety lifeguards will see a reduction in their hours. Residents can also expect a reduction in the number of events and programs in the Parks and Recreation Department.
Commissioner Patricia Asseff said she believes the City Manager is doing the best he can. She understands cuts will have to be made but does not want a reduction in public safety. “Safety is the number one priority in the city. I don’t want to raise taxes. We just have to work efficiently,” she said. “The 13th check is something we never should have done and it was structured wrong. How do you give away money you don’t have?”
Asseff believes it is important to look for ways to raise property values in Hollywood. “We need new developments in the entire city and to fix up properties,” she added.
Vice Mayor Peter Hernandez said everything needs to remain on the table. He believes the Diplomat Resort & Spa should be taken out of the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) because this would mean about $1.8 million for the City and would mean fewer cuts for important services. He believes the Beach CRA should be eliminated. “If we eliminated the Beach CRA that would be $17 million that would go directly to the City’s general fund this year and $19 million next year,” said Hernandez.
He is concerned about some of the proposed cuts. He said that without adequate lifeguard protection at the beach, those enjoying the beach might be at greater risk. Hernandez expressed concern that a program that provides an open gymnasium for young people might be eliminated. “This program takes 80 kids off the street,” he said.
Commissioner Traci Callari said she did not want to see hiring freezes. “We are facing some challenges but we will be OK,” she said.
Commissioner Kevin Biederman said, “It will work out in the end. I am not in favor of raising taxes or freezing positions. I think there are non-essential positions such as the labor relations position that could be cut. We have several unfilled director positions that are non-essential,” he said.
Commissioner Dick Blattner said he believes City staff did a good job on the budget. “They did a good job on balancing the reductions and changes we must have,” he said.
Upcoming budget meetings:
- On July 6, the Hollywood Commission will set the not-to-exceed millage rate for the City.
- In late August, the Commission will hold a workshop to discuss the final operating budget.
- On September 13, there will be a preliminary public hearing on the budget.
- On September 26, there will be a final public hearing on the budget.