Sarasota News Leader

09/28/12

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SARASOTA'S RETIRING CHIEFS The Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall has reached a positive operating level, no longer needing a sub- sidy from the City of Sarasota. Photo by Norman Schimmel CITY FINANCE DIRECTOR CHRIS LYONS LOOKS BACK, AHEAD AT CITY MONEY ISSUES By Stan Zimmerman City Editor Chris Lyons announced his retirement Sept. 19, making the fifth top official in the admin- istration of the City of Sarasota to leave in 2012. Lyons is stepping down for medical rea- sons, having fought cancer for the past several years with experimental drugs. He sat for a three-hour interview with The Sarasota News Leader on Sept. 25. Lyons just completed his 23rd consecutive budget for the city. He has been the city's fi- nance director for the past five years. THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM Balancing budgets has been brutal in the eco- nomic downturn. Because 80% of the city's total expenses are related to payroll and ben- efits, staff reductions were inevitable; they af- fected all departments. But compared to the city's pension liabilities, the budget was easy. "The pension [issue] is the elephant in the room," said Lyons. He turned to his trusty calculator to add up the unfunded liabilities of the city's three pen- sion funds. Clickety-clack, the total is $143 million. And the category called OPEB – oth- er post-employment benefits (such as retiree health care) – clickety-clack, $129 million. Together they make a $272 million difference

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