Historic City News followed the St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners special meeting Thursday morning that was held in the County Auditorium at the County Administration Building, 500 San Sebastian View, St. Augustine, Florida.
The meeting was the Budget Workshop for St. Johns County Fiscal Year 2010.
Commission Chairman Cyndi Stevenson provided the following summary of the County budget meeting and an overview of the budget situation:
The Administrator’s proposed budget reduces total property tax revenue and general fund revenue from 2008 and 2009 levels.
Because of property tax reform passed by the Legislature and by Floridians by Amendment 1 and because real estate values have declined—-To stay the same-a NO INCREASE -NO DECREASE budget can only be achieved by a millage increase. Some property owners would pay more-some would pay less-this is due to Save our Homes and other exemptions.
The Administrator’s proposal is a budget decrease in real dollars-but would result in a slight increase in millage rates to avoid drastic service decreases.
The budget gap is about $35 million. The budget under consideration is LESS than 2008 and 2009. This budget challenge is all about operating costs-as capital costs proposed are already bare bones. Some capital projects will be funded in 2010 from restricted revenues or grants-if the general fund only if they reduce operating costs or can be sustained by the general fund.
Sales tax, franchise fees, impact fees and utility franchise fees are restricted to capital investments-so cannot close this gap.
60% of your county property taxes do not go to the County Commission-they go to School Board, Anastasia Island mosquito Control, and St. Johns River Water Management District and Airport Authority.
The BCC Budget paid for by property taxes as reported in the Administrator’s Town Hall Meetings is as follows-please note-further reductions have been brought forward by Sheriff-in our budget meeting today:
Sheriff Operation 59.9 (in millions of dollars)
EMS/public safety 13.7
General Govt 14.7 (management and budget, Commission, Personnel)
Health and Human Svc 4.9 (indigent care, independent agencies, mental health)
Growth Management 5.3
Economic Development 4.0
We are looking for recommendations to reduce costs. Currently we have such a large gap to close-the Commission will likely face the tough decision to increase millage rates slightly or drastically cut services. There is roughly a 35 million gap that will need to be closed to maintain a flat or reduced millage policy.
Quality of life spending on libraries, parks and recreation total $13 million. These programs are most at risk when hard caps are set on local revenues.
The county has been right sizing the county budget every year since 2006-reducing number of employees, rebidding and renegotiating contracts, and reforming retirement benefits and increasing employee share of rising health insurance costs.
During the 2005 Budget, the vote split 3-2 at the millage rate adoption hearing because of concerns about the rising cost of debt service and operating costs of proposed capital projects for quality of life projects. Budget reforms saving money to bolster reserves began in earnest in 2006 to prepare for the financial storm we are now in. Current projections indicate the county’s worst budget year will be 2011.
Administration and the Commission welcome suggestions from the citizens and businesses. The county has suggestion boxes in the libraries. Or you may visit the county website www.sjcfl.us and click the town hall presentation for details. There are places to add comments and recommendations. Many good suggestions have been obtained from the public as well as county staff.
The county has been working diligently to be able to avoid this type of decision, but frankly, the economic decline is deeper and wider than anticipated. There is much talk of relief from the Federal Government-but as of today, they do not address these operating costs.
Clearly reforms that reduce unfunded mandates-and reduce healthcare costs would improve the county’s budget outlook.
The Amphitheatre and County Utility are enterprise funds. The revenue is reported in the “total budget” for the county and paid for by ticket sales, customer charges and unit connection fees NOT paid by property taxes.
The county amphitheatre has done well enough this year to pay debt service for this year and last year-in addition to operating costs. It was financed by a sales tax bond and investment of county property taxes.
The county utility is more of a discrete business unit. Its debt are secured and paid for entirely by customers of the St. Johns County utility department. If this organization became an independent authority-it would be excluded from the county financial statements-like JEA.
Beach Renourishment projects are paid for out of Bed Tax Revenues under long term (50 year plans)-with most of the funding coming from the Federal Government. Counties who have diverted money pledged to those plans have been charged for misappropriation of resources.
The County Convention Center is paid for by bed taxes paid by overnight guests and other tourist related revenues.