Riviera Beach city manager puts department heads on 90-day probationary period

RIVIERA BEACH City Manager Ruth Jones is putting city department heads and other managers on notice that they, too, could lose their jobs to budget cuts as the city council wrestles with the prospect of layoffs and furloughs for hourly employees.

During a July 2 meeting with department heads, Jones told everyone who reports to her that they "are currently on what equates to a 90-day probationary period."

Jones also told council members in a July 2 e-mail that she will be reviewing the issuance of cellphones, take-home cars, purchasing cards and credit cards as the city works to cut costs for the budget year that begins Oct. 1.

Riviera Beach is facing a 16 percent drop in taxable property value for the upcoming budget year and reductions in other sources of revenue.

Budget-cutting scenarios presented to the council so far include cutting up to 40 jobs, including possible police and fire department layoffs, requiring employees to take one unpaid day off a month and increasing the tax rate by up to $1 per $1,000 taxable value, to $9.43. The council also is considering cutting employee health insurance and pension benefits.

Some council members and residents agree that Jones should take a hard look at management jobs and related expenses as she prepares her proposed 2010 budget.

"I really applaud Ms. Jones for her decision to look at leadership and the department heads," Councilwoman Billie Brooks said. "For a city our size, we've got much too much being spent on overhead. Now is the time to be streamlining city hall."

Council Chairwoman Dawn Pardo told Jones in a July 1 memo that "we must face reality with our eyes open."

"We must not be afraid to do what is necessary to maintain the economic health of our city," Pardo wrote.

Cuts suggested by Pardo include freezing all but essential travel, reducing the amount spent on outside attorneys, offering an early retirement option to some employees and setting car allowances based on actual driving expenses. Council members, for instance, receive a $500-a-month car allowance.

Some residents agree with Jones' approach.

"She's listening to what we are trying to convey," resident Mary Brabham said, referring to Jones. "Hopefully she can turn this city around, and it must start from the top."

William Burrs, a former council member, told the council during a June 25 budget workshop that he had never seen a tree trimmed from the bottom up. "It's trimmed from the top down," Burrs said.

The city council is scheduled to set a maximum tax rate for the upcoming budget year Wednesday. Jones is expected to present a tentative budget to the council by July 30.