Crestview shows how to cut back

In a time of falling revenue, rising taxpayer discontent and tough talk about the need for local governments to cut costs, the toughest talk of all is coming from the City of Crestview.

Hoping to avoid a property tax hike and make up for a likely $3 million shortfall in the city’s 2010-11 budget, Crestview’s department heads have proposed cutbacks that are frankly startling. They’re suggesting a 10-day unpaid furlough for city employees, the elimination of about 15 employee positions, adoption of a four-day work week, a reduction in city contributions to family medical coverage and the scrapping of a 7 percent city employee pay raise.

Mayor David Cadle, who praised the department heads’ diligence in slashing expenses, acknowledged that “the public was beating up on them.”

Maybe the public should beat up on other officeholders, too. Crestview’s proposals make the cost-cutting ideas of other local governments seem timid.

Indeed, politicians throughout our region often talk the talk but seldom walk the walk when it comes to deep, painful budget cuts. Okaloosa County officials talked earlier this year about furloughs for county employees … but ended up ditching the idea. Fort Walton Beach officials have just given tentative approval to a 2010-11 budget that raises the city’s property tax rate … but contains no staff reductions.

Crestview’s property tax rate also is slated to go up. In July, the City Council set a tentative rate of 6.5 mills, up from the current 5.84 mills. (A mill means $1 in tax for every $1,000 of a property’s taxable value.) In light of the proposed spending cuts, however, Council Vice President Bob Allen guessed the city might not have to raise taxes after all.

Will Crestview stick with the department heads’ cost-cutting proposals? Or will it take an easier way out, such as by upping its property tax rate, imposing new fees or dipping into city reserves? We’ll have to see. The council is expected to adopt a tentative budget during a special meeting Aug. 27.

Northwest Florida Daily News
© Copyright 2010 Freedom Communications.

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