CLEARWATER — All the city department heads were there, sitting in rows before the City Council, each awaiting his or her turn at the podium.
The Aug. 22 special budget meeting at the Main Library wasn’t the usual council meeting; it was what Mayor George N. Cretekos characterized as a friendly gathering (“Let’s have some fun”). It was, in effect, a chance for each department chief to describe for the council what he or she needs from the 2019-2020 budget. Each of the departments, from City Manager Bill Horne’s office to Human Resources, to Parks and Recreation, to Fire and Rescue, to Parking, will get a piece of the $542,194,290 in operating funds slated for next budget year.
Clearwater Police Chief Dan Slaughter, for instance, eventually wants $12 million for a new District 3 substation with offices, training classrooms, and new gun ranges inside a 20,000 square-foot building that can withstand Category 5 winds. The project is listed on the Penny for Pinellas list of approved projects. The funding will be realized over several years, said Kayleen Kastel, the city’s budget director.
“It is included in the capital budget with initial funding of $1 million in fiscal year 2020 and $11 million in fiscal year 2021,” she said.
The money will also come from an internal loan from the city’s Central Insurance Fund, with schedule repayment of the loan via a $6 million payment from Penny IV in 2021 and a $5 million payment from Penny IV in 2025, Slaughter added.
Cretekos asked Slaughter to “justify the cost” of the new facility.
Slaughter told Cretekos that the present police department building at 645 Pierce St. is aging.
“The building we have was built in 1983 and it is becoming functionally obsolete,” he told the mayor. “The training facility is in mobile trailers and they are nearing the end of their life. The cost is expensive because of the Category 5 necessity. It is a need we have. When the eye of a hurricane goes over Clearwater, I have 180 employees on duty, and they have to go somewhere. The main station is rated for (a Category) 2 and a half.”
District 3, which is Clearwater’s largest police district, comprises everything east of Alternate U.S. 19 to Tampa Bay. Slaughter told Cretekos that the new facility would include a SWAT training facility, fire range training, but the department still relies on portable classrooms for other law enforcement training.
“We’d like to get rid of those trailers and get everything under one roof,” he told Cretekos. The proposed facility has not been finalized, including what kind of equipment and IT the station will use.
City councilman Bob Cundiff agreed with Slaughter.
“I can see the importance, having lived here 23 years now, and the hurricanes that have gone through, the city does need a police facility that will survive a Category 5 hurricane,” Cundiff said. “I think it’s an appropriate investment.”
City auditor Yvonne Taylor has an office of two. She measures risk and operational deficiencies in the city government. She had a good-natured exchange with council members.
“My budget is $226,000,” she began. “We provide risk assessment, where threats and risks and opportunities are, to make recommendations that will strengthen the work that is being done here by different departments.”
She also keeps the city informed on new regulatory requirements, statutes and ordinances that department heads may not know about. She recently hired a new auditor to replace one that resigned in November.
After councilmembers joked about whether it was the time and place to ask department heads if they have what they need, she responded with good humor.
“In all honesty, I will say that no, I do not have adequate staff to cover the entire city of Clearwater,” she said with a laugh. “Due to budget constraints, it is what it is. We make do with the resources we have.”
Denise Sanders, director of Economic Development and Housing, told the council that her department has 11 fulltime employees that provide affordable housing services, make possible the construction of single family and multi-family residences, and provide other services to businesses. Much of her budget is funded via federal grants.
Dan Mayer, the city’s IT director, told councilmembers that his department supports and maintains city computer and communications systems with software updates, maintenance, and upgrades to networks. His department’s 2020 budget is slated to be $8.8 million, a 7% increase from this year.
The increase came from new software and maintenance contracts with tech companies, an expensive exercise.
“We also launched the upgrade of (the city’s) payroll system,” as well as increased camera systems and other security, improvements to Granicus, the online streaming of government meetings, and other projects.
Clearwater Library Director Jennifer Obermaier told the council that her department manages a collection of “more than half a million items in five locations.”
The department has 84 fulltime staff, and her budget request includes $700,000 for the purchase of new books and other lending materials. In the past, the library lent books physically to patrons, but has over the years seen an increase in the borrowing of digital content via the Internet.
The City Council also learned about Obermaier’s program called “Thingamabrary,” which has broadened the kinds of things the public can borrow from the library.
Using their library cards, patrons can borrow hand tools, board games, ukulele kits, and even Wi-Fi hotspots that patrons can take home or on vacation for 28 days at a time.