More budget cuts expected for Manatee County

dmarsteller@bradenton.comMarch 23, 2011 

MANATEE -- Manatee County’s next budget is bleeding red ink six months before it takes effect.

The county could have to trim at least $4 million from its fiscal 2012 budget if a projected drop in property values holds true, county administrators told county commissioners during a work session Tuesday.

Officials didn’t suggest specific cuts nor did they ask commissioners for a decision. But they said programs largely supported by property taxes, such as parks and recreation, libraries and emergency medical services, would be the most-likely targets.

“Where to cut? There’s not a lot there,” said Jim Seuffert, the county’s financial management director.

The county has lopped $122 million from its past four annual budgets because of falling property values. Manatee’s taxable value has dropped from $34.4 billion in 2007 to $24.7 billion this year, according to the Manatee County Property Appraiser’s office.

It’s expected to fall yet again, to an early projection of $23.5 billion in 2012. That would mean $8 million less in property tax revenue for the county in the next budget that takes effect Oct. 1, Seuffert said.

The county could absorb half of that by using a reserve fund, leaving $4 million to make up, he said.

That might just be the start: Deeper cuts could be possible, depending on what happens with the state budget, fuel prices and other unpredictable factors, Seuffert said.

“There’s nothing we can be sure of right now,” he said.

But officials already are exploring possible money-saving options, County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said. For example, “We’re looking at every one of the properties the county has to see if there are any opportunities to reduce” operations and maintenance costs, he said.

Commissioners also suggested, briefly discussed but did not decide on other possible alternatives, such as levying a separate tax to fund the sheriff’s office or asking voters to approve a sales tax increase. But they acknowledged both are long shots, given the current mood of voters.

“This is not a time to be talking about any (new) taxes,” Commissioner Donna Hayes said, who called such talk “very dangerous.”

Financial issues also have the county looking to exit the canal-dredging business.

County public works officials are recommending the county no longer maintain navigable canals within residential subdivisions and charge residents to partially recoup the cost.

Instead, they said the county should embark on a $300,000-a-year program to clean out areas where water enters those waterways through pipes.

The proposed change comes after several recent county dredging projects drew criticism. Some residents complained the work wasn’t done properly or unfairly did not extend to their docks, leaving it difficult or impossible to access canals in their boats.

County officials will present commissioners a plan for a vote at a future commission meeting.

Duane Marsteller, Herald staff writer, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.

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