Tuesday the Board of County Commissioners adopted the final fiscal year 2010 budget of $611 million, a $47 million decrease from 2009 and a $122 million decrease since 2007.
Adoption of the final budget was the culmination of a lengthy process, which included unprecedented community dialogue and public input over the past several months.
The final millage rate for the general fund is 4.8 mils, consistent with the tentative budget. This millage rate will generate $98.3 million of revenue, down from the $100.8 million collected in the general fund last year.
The Commission settled on this millage after examining the impacts of a flat millage rate and determined the draconian impacts to public services and facilities would not be consistent with the expressed desires of the community. Those deep service cuts that would have been required with a flat millage were comprehensively outlined in the St. Augustine Record last weekend.
The Commission set the fire district final millage at 1.2 mils, down from the tentative budget of 1.3 mils. This will generate $22.9 million, a reduction from $23.2 million in 2009. This level of funding, which includes a 3 percent average raise for members of the fire union, will allow the fire department to continue operating near the status quo; however, it eliminates major renovations to two existing stations and may result in the deferral of the construction of the new Pine Island station. It may also mean laying off approximately 12 firefighters.
I hope the community is pleased with the final budget, as I am. After hearing from hundreds of citizens during our Town Hall meetings and throughout the budget process, I believe this budget reflects the desire of the majority of our residents. The final budget continues the trend begun in 2007 of reducing the County’s budget and overall taxes, while preserving most of the programs and services the community values. I truly appreciate the Commission and the community working together in achieving this balanced budget.
I wish to emphasize two components of the final budget that were a direct result of the Commission responding to the desires of the community. The first is the reduction between the tentative budget set in July, which was reflected on TRIM notices mailed in August, and the final budget approved this week. The tentative budget was $613 million; however the community expressed a desire to lower it even further. The Commission continued to make reductions and was able to end up with a $611 million budget. The additional $2 million of savings included employee furloughs, among other things, and will result in a lower tax bill than first appeared on the TRIM notices.
Secondly, the tentative budget included reductions in library hours, including closing two branches an additional day each week. The community did not find that acceptable, and the Commission heard from hundreds of residents about their strong desire to maintain current library hours. The Commission responded by reallocating up to $225,000 in the final budget to keep all libraries operating on their current schedules. The community should feel proud of the impacts they made in the late stages of the budget process.
Although we are able to avoid drastic reductions in services within the final budget, the $47 million savings will come at some cost to services. Some of the reductions made by the County have included:
The budget goes into effect October 1, 2009, which marks the beginning of the 2010 County fiscal year.
Many groups have participated in the budget process, and I wish to thank everyone who has played a role. Doug Timms and the staff in our Office of Management and Budget continue to do an exceptional job of addressing a dire financial situation with a responsible budget that is in the best interest of the County. Department directors also played key roles in identifying cost savings and cooperatively reducing their budgets in ways that will have the least negative impact to public services. Additionally, I appreciate the dedication of every County employee who is doing more with less, continuing to provide excellent service to the community, proactively finding ways to achieve even more savings, and doing so with a reduction in their salaries this year. I also want to give special recognition to the road and bridge staff in the carpenter’s union who, although they have a contractual right to a raise, voluntarily both gave up their raises and agreed to take furloughs along with the rest of the County staff. Without such a great and dedicated staff, neither I nor the Commission could adequately serve the public.
However, it is you, the public whom we serve, who deserve the most credit for making this entire budget process a success. Although there has not been a lot of good news during the past several months, the County has been fortunate to have a dedicated group of citizens who have been actively involved, learning the facts, participating in a constructive dialogue, providing feedback, and ultimately supporting the final budget that was passed on Tuesday. We recognize the budget may not have been what every individual preferred, but it strikes a fair balance of lowering taxes while preserving most public programs and facilities. It has truly been my pleasure to work with you through this process, and I look forward to working with you on the challenges ahead.
Michael D. Wanchick