City looking at tiny surplus

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  • | 12:00 p.m. May 23, 2008
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by Mike Sharkey

Staff Writer

It isn’t much — less than a few of the City’s top salaries — but if things hold true, the City is looking at finishing the year with a projected revenue surplus of $164,000. According to Director of Finance Mickey Miller, based on a budget of $948 million, that figure is essentially negligible, but it’s certainly better than finishing with a deficit.

“Our expenditures are well within our budget,” said Miller at Thursday’s meeting of the City Council Finance Committee during its mid-year budget review.

“That’s nice to see,” said Finance Chair Art Shad of the savings, regardless of the amount.

Offsetting that slight positive variance, however, is the fact the City’s general fund revenues currently reflect a $17.2 million unfavorable variance. Miller attributes this to lower than expected revenues from the local sales tax and lower than anticipated revenues from the State.

“The real challenge is related to the sales tax revenue,” said Miller, explaining original budget estimates called for higher revenue contributions from the State.

Overall, Miller said expenditures from the general fund are projected to be $22.3 million under the revised budget amount due to several factors. At the top of that list is a savings of $8.2 million from the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department.

“It’s nice we are spending less, but how are we doing that?” said Shad, who also wanted assurance from JFRD Director Dan Kleman that the residents of Jacksonville are still receiving quality, timely fire and rescue service.

Kleman affirmed that quality service was being provided and attributed the savings to vacancies within the department that haven’t been filled. According to Kleman, at one point there were 100 unfilled positions with JFRD.

“We started the year with 97 and as of today it’s at 80,” said Kleman. “We have hired a couple of classes and we just started a new class of 24 recruits. In large part we are under budget because of vacancies.”

Kleman said his department has just over 1,300 employees. He added other savings are being realized thanks to paying less for internal services such as information technology. However, as with most, the price of gas may eventually offset some savings.

“I don’t project such as rosy a picture at the end of the year,” said Kleman.

The topic of vacancies throughout the City quickly became a topic of discussion and one Finance member Stephen Joost said he intends to pursue. According to Miller’s report, the City has 7,993 authorized and budgeted positions for the 2007-08 fiscal year. Of those positions, 598 are vacant. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office constitutes nearly half of the City’s budgeted positions (3,061) and almost one-third of its vacancies (168).

Joost, who also sits on the Ad Hoc Budget Committee — which was tasked by Shad to examine every City department in conjunction with the Council Auditor’s Office in an effort to determine how much, if any, of the 2 percent placed in “lapse” will be reinstated — believes the various City departments over-budget positions are an effort to create a budget buffer.

“How can you do budget planning when you overestimate positions?” he said.

Joost believes some of the budgeted positions — as well as many of the current vacancies — are never intended to be filled. His contention is based on the number of vacancies and length of some of those vacancies.

“I wonder if we should codify this into law when we are doing the budget,” he said.

Council Auditor Kirk Sherman questioned the true need of some of the positions.

“If a position has been open for 18 months, the obvious question is, do we need to fill it?” said Sherman, adding that during the Ad Hoc meeting the department heads all make cases for the positions. “Every department head in every instance says, no we need the money to fund our operating expenses.”

Shad says such lapses are common in both private companies and municipalities “all over the world.”

Miller said he has instructed the department heads when they are preparing their 2008-09 budgets to provide more accurate position counts.



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