Palm Bay ponders staff cuts to patch roads
City Council want to repair roads without raising taxes
PALM BAY, Fla. – The Palm Bay City Council is considering cutting up to 45 government jobs and putting the savings toward repairing the city's crumbling roads.
The debate pits council members who aim to address long-overdue road repairs without increasing property tax bills against council members who want to maintain current city services and staff, while exploring other ways to pay for road work.
The potential staff cuts were discussed at budget workshop Tuesday, but city officials emphasized that it is early in the budget process and no official action was taken. The city plans another budget workshop on June 23, and won't make the budget final until the fall.
The city also is examining options that could avoid layoffs, such as creating a new special district and special assessments for roads.
Palm Bay's estimated road-repair deficit is $162 million, including 357 miles of failed streets that require costly reconstruction.
Residents paid about $8.20 per $1,000 of taxable property value for this year's budget.
A proposal favored by city councilmen Harry Santiago, Très Holton and Jeff Bailey would have a tax rate of about $8 for every $1,000 of taxable property value. Under that scenario, the owner of a home with a taxable value of $100,000 (after homestead exemption is subtracted) would pay $800.
The city would dedicate $1 of that $8.00 rate to fixing roads. That comes to about $2.8 million.
Under that scenario, the city would face a $3.6 million shortfall. The council asked city administrators to identify up to 45 jobs that could be eliminated citywide to close the gap.
The city is still negotiating a contract with its firefighters, which could result in an additional budget deficit.
Mayor William Capote said he hopes to maintain the city's workforce, especially in departments hit hard by budget cuts in recent years, such as parks and recreation.
"To me, anything within recreation is quality of life," Capote said. "We need to be able to have activities for youth."
But Holton said the city must prioritize and that roads are a core function of city government.
"You can't kick the can down the road forever, especially when said road is full of potholes," Holton said Thursday via email. "I will not vote for a property tax rate higher than the current millage, which is already close to the 10 mill cap allowed by law; therefore something in the budget has to give, it is a matter of priorities."
He points to a city road survey that shows 74 percent of residents want road funding made a priority within the property taxes already collected.
"Do I want to layoff 5 percent of our city workforce, of course not, we have fantastic folks working for Palm Bay and myself and others are trying to find short and long-term solutions to our road funding deficit, but reality is roads have been neglected too long and we have to start playing catch-up."
The mayor said he'll oppose any layoffs until he sees more specifics about how many and which positions, departments and services would be affected.
"Who's going to fix the roads if we may have to lay off people from public works?" Capote said.
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