Fort Lauderdale Officials Divided Over Proposed Deep Cuts In Services

FORT LAUDERDALE -- A day after absorbing a proposed plan that slashes $15 million from the city's budget, commissioners had divided reactions Wednesday.

Commissioner Dean Trantalis said the cuts disturb him -- especially the ones calling for the elimination of police positions. He said he would prefer for other departments to cut further into their budgets so services could be retained in the police and fire departments.

"I'm very concerned we are beginning to fall short of our municipal obligations as far as protecting our people and providing city services that most people take for granted," he said. "We have somehow gotten off the track as far as what's important as a city. Police and fire protection is No. 1, and if we're cutting back to higher crime and less efficiency, we're doing a disservice to the community."

Vice Mayor Carlton Moore said he also is troubled with the prospect of cutting so many jobs. He questioned firing people at the advice of Acting City Manager Alan Silva when his replacement might suggest a different course.

Two other commissioners were more supportive of Silva's proposals, which will be considered formally by the commission within weeks.

"I like what I see," said Commissioner Christine Teel. "Mr. Silva is doing what needed to be done years ago. We're approaching it with realistic numbers in mind instead of fantasy numbers."

Mayor Jim Naugle said the city needs drastic changes in its budget but said the recommendations are "fluid and are subject to change. Things can be added or deleted.

"I think it's something that's needed for long-term sustainability of the city. We can't keep raising revenues. You have to look at cutting expenses, like anyone does in their own household."

Among the proposals to bring the city budget under control, 42 sworn police positions would be eliminated and fire-rescue dispatching would be turned over to the county.

Employees are already facing reductions in pay and increased health insurance costs. The city's jail and trash transfer station would be closed. City festivals would be eliminated if they cost the city anything at all, and public pool hours would be reduced. Cleaning and patrolling of parks and park buildings also would be severely reduced.

Proposals also include closing some beach lifeguard towers and taking out of service a fire engine and ambulance that were stationed at the barrier island when the Cleveland Clinic there closed and residents feared for their health and safety.

The cuts would be applied in January and carried through the next budget year.