News Section: Local Government
Manatee County Administrator's Budget Proposal Looks to Hold the Line
BRADENTON -- Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker proposed a $458 million county budget recommendation on Thursday that would keep property tax levels at last year’s rates and hold public services steady, while avoiding layoffs.
The budget reduces the county’s operating expenses by another $4.3 million, but since capital budgets are up $11.1 million, the overall net budget is $6.8 million more than last year’s adopted net budget (excluding Port Manatee). During a budget presentation to the Manatee County Commission, Hunzeker pointed out that even with the slight increase this year the county budget has declined by $132.6 million (22.4 percent) over the past six years, and property taxes have been reduced by $82.7 million or 35 percent.
The budget is also 3 percent below the “rollback” rate, which is the tax level required to collect the same amount in taxes next year as was collected this year. The rollback tax rate would collect an additional $3.9 million without raising tax rates. Budget documents project that taxes on the average homestead property valued at $150,000 will remain at last year’s level of $1,036.53, in the unincorporated areas of Manatee County.
Hunzeker is also recommending a 6 percent decrease in permitting fees as the result of what he says are increased efficiencies in the Building and Development Services Department, along with rebounding construction throughout Manatee. Permit fees may only be used to fund building review-related costs and cannot be used to fund other areas of the county budget.
“Construction activity in our county is recovering … residential building permit activity in Manatee County is as strong as in any county in the state,” Hunzeker said. “This means revenue from permit fees has rebounded considerably, while efficiencies in providing the permitting and inspection services have allowed us to keep up with the workload without adding staff.”
Though there are no layoffs proposed in next year’s budget, the county budget includes the elimination of a net of four positions, largely the result of reduced state funding for low income housing and environmental programs.
Public Defender Larry Eger, and Trial Court Administrator Walt Smith, came in with a late request, one that wasn't submitted prior to preparing the proposal. They requested $52,000 for a counselor and $10,000 for drug testing, to continue their "Drug Court." Those arrested for violating drug laws are 70 to 80 percent more likely to become return-offenders they claimed, while those fortunate enough to experience Drug Court have had a return rate between 20 and 25 percent. This is a precautionary measure that becomes a big bang for the buck.
With the county operating at a deficit, it means the budget for programs supported by property taxes and general revenue are spending more money than collected annually. If commissioners consider adding or enhancing a program, it will have to be a tit for tat with an existing program, or else they must find sufficient reason to tap into dwindling Budget Stabilization Fund reserves.
One of the budget challenges before the County Commissioners is the enhancement of employee compensation, or pay raises. It's been five years since any pay raises have been dealt out to county employees. This is certainly something many of the residents who actually pay employees salaries can relate to. The commission will be looking at a cost neutral approach to obtain the enhanced compensation.
The elephant in the room at Thursday's budget workshop was the Manatee County Sheriff's Office (MCSO). Year after year, they have come back to the commission in need of more funds, and year after year, the MCSO falls further below the average pay for law enforcement for the region. Currently, they are now the lowest paid of the surrounding counties and Sheriff Steube proposes it would take at least $5 million increase to bring the force up to mid-grade pay.
A staff reduction of nine has reduced MCSO's budget by $692,000, and fleet reduction (5%) another $505,993. Add in extra fuel expense, the FRS rate increase, maintenance contracts and overtime, and their budget pops out at $92,085,451. This is a $345,993 decrease from last year's budget.
Steube clearly stated that they need to shim up the pay for deputies, or that they will continue to loose the good ones that carry a lot of the experience needed to do the job. The commission vowed to make the discussion top priority in the next workshop on budget matters. Commissioners directed county staff to return Tuesday for a discussion on the possibility of holding a community-wide straw poll to approve higher rates to fund public safety.
The public is invited to attend all discussions about these matters, as it is the people's money and these are the people's issues. Today’s budget workshop was the first in a series of public meetings to discuss next year’s county budget. Future meetings are scheduled as follows:
· Fund Analysis Review: Wed., June 6, 1:30 – 5 p.m., in the Manatee Room on the Fourth Floor of the County Administration Building, 1112 Manatee Ave. W. This presentation will provide a summary of the county’s major financial funds. The county’s financial structure is made up of approximately 150 funds, each of which is a self-balancing entity, and is created for the purpose of legal compliance requirements or accountability requirements, or both.
· Capital Improvement Program (CIP): Fri., June 8, 9 a.m. to noon, in the Manatee Room on the Fourth Floor of the County Administration Building, 1112 Manatee Ave. W.
· (If needed for follow up issues): Thursday, June 14, 1:30 – 5 p.m., in the Manatee Room on the Fourth Floor of the County Administration Building, 1112 Manatee Ave. W.
· Public Meeting: Thursday, June 14, 6-7 p.m., First Floor Chambers of the County Administration Building, 1112 Manatee Ave. W.
· Special Meeting on Budget Reconciliation: July 26, 9 a.m. to noon, First Floor Chambers of the County Administration Building, 1112 Manatee Ave. W.
Two additional public hearings will be held in September, before the final 2012-13 budget is adopted.
For more information on Manatee County’s proposed budget, visit www.mymanatee.org/budget.
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