Historic City News reporters received a copy of the following open letter to the County Commission, each County employee, and St. Johns County residents from County Administrator Michael D. Wanchick.
As the County Commission adopted the final budget for Fiscal Year 2011 at the end of September, it was in stark contrast to the situation playing out in some neighboring communities and in governments throughout Florida and even the nation.
I want to focus for a moment on the budget process itself.
It is often easy for the public or media to criticize government and complain about sub-standard performance or poor decisions. But, when the occasion arises to compliment a job well done, it does not always happen. So I want to deliberately and publicly thank the Board of County Commissioners, our County staff, and the public for an outstanding budget process.
It began nearly a year ago when staff began making cuts – for the fourth year in a row – and identifying creative ways to do more with less in anticipation of another budget reduction. These tough decisions included delaying parks and road projects, reducing operating expenses, and asking employees to again accept no pay increases for the second year in a row (including no bonuses for general County employees), among other things.
The budget process continued over the summer as the public participated in numerous Town Hall meetings and provided meaningful feedback on the budget and the type of community you want to have, and staff continued to refine the budget.
Finally, the budget process culminated with two required budget public hearings in September, which lasted a total of 72 minutes and included comments by eight public speakers, and those overwhelmingly positive. One might wonder if this indicates our residents are apathetic about the budget, but I strongly believe otherwise.
While some governments endured public hearings that lasted hours and debated components of their budgets at the last minute, St. Johns County had diligently prepared the way for a smooth finale. By communicating with the public, exchanging information honestly, listening to our residents, and adjusting the budget accordingly, St. Johns County got it right, and I believe all involved should be commended.
Does this mean I expect each of our more than 180,000 residents to be pleased with our budget? No, I understand we are unable to satisfy everyone. But I do believe all residents had ample opportunity to be involved, and at the end of the day the community in general has confidence that the County Commission is managing our budget well and is making decisions in the best long-term interest of St. Johns County.
Congratulations to the County Commission, each County employee, and our residents for a job well done!
Michael D. Wanchick