County faces raising millage rate or layoffs

Although St. Johns County’s budget will not be finalized until August, the Board of County Commissioners has announced to Historic City News that they will have a Special Meeting on Tuesday, July 12th at 9:00 a.m. where staff will present the recommended budget for fiscal year 2012.

County Administrator Michael Wanchick recently concluded a series of Town Hall meetings the purpose of which were to garner citizen input into this year’s budget process. Wanchick’s plan includes what has become a controversial increase in millage — the factor applied to property values to determine your tax liability.

What the staff recommendation did not include, to any comparable degree, were layoffs like we saw in Tallahassee last week — when the state gave pink slips to 1,300 of its workers.

Those layoffs could pale in comparison to layoffs in cities, counties and schools, according to published reports; but, it remains unclear for St. Johns County. Besides layoffs, cities, counties, and schools will also consider ending programs, cutting salaries and furloughs.

Wanchick has been quoted to say that we don’t have a spending problem — we have an income problem; when advocating for an increased millage rate. Opponents to Wanchick’s recommendation say that now its city and county government’s turn to balance their dwindling budgets — including increased layoffs, if necessary, to save money.

Florida Association of Counties spokesperson, Cragin Mosteller, characterized the hard decisions facing county budget makers. “The first year you cut the fun stuff, you cut some of the parks, maybe you cut back on library hours, the second year you go a little deeper. Now we are in the fourth year.”

Early estimates showed as many as 10,000 layoffs in Florida schools alone — it now looks like there won’t be as many school layoffs, but, at the moment, no one knows for sure.

St. Johns County’s school district is dealing with fewer dollars from the state, falling property values and Dr. Joe Joyner will have to make the tough decision about who to keep and who to let go. We aren’t alone. When the bell rings signifying the start of school this August, unfortunately there will be a lot of open spots in teacher parking lots across the state.

Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News staff photographer

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