Raises for employees funded in new Lakewood Ranch IDA budget

dgraham@bradenton.comMarch 27, 2013 

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Support personnel of the Lakewood Ranch community development districts could get up to 3 percent potential performance-based merit raises if the proposed 2014 budget of the Inter-District Authority is approved.

This opportunity comes after Lakewood Ranch's overall success in paring the 2013 budget down by 1.4 percent.

Each of the six community development districts, their staff and leadership, worked by separating their budgets down by individual line items to figure out how to reduce every expenditure as much as possible, said chief financial officer Steve Zielinski.

"It's a hodge-podge. Its very hard to identify. It just was a more vigilant approach to budgeting. We're concerned more and more each year about the impact the budget is going to have on the districts," Zielinski said. "You have to balance it. Every budget has to be balanced by reducing expenditures and by reducing the service levels to the residents that it takes to maintain the facilities."

New this year, Lakewood Ranch staff in June will take over preparing the preliminary tax assessment rolls that used to be outsourced to Severn Trent Management Service on an annual basis for all districts.

The total budget in fiscal year 2013 was $3,234,340, compared to the proposed 2014 budget of $3,187,490.

"We're kind of on track. There's nobody in dire straits. There's the typical fine tuning that's going on right now," said Tom Green, chairman of the Lakewood Ranch Inter-District Authority. "Trying to make sure you can do that is a challenge for each of the boards. We need these funds for revitalizing the community. I'm concerned we don't give back too much too quick because then we can find ourselves having to raise funds."

During the first portion of its meeting March 21, the IDA accepted the audit report from Antonio Grau of Grau and Associates, CPAs, who reported that it was in "great shape."

For the first time in the decade since he had been doing them, all the audits throughout the districts and IDA were clean, Zielinski repeated to the board Tuesday. "The staff is a doing great job as far as putting together financial statements."

Reporting on the executive summary, Zielinski said, "The highlights for the audit are a clean opinion and records that fairly represent the financial statements from Sept. 30, 2012. We have complied with all the requirements of the state of Florida financial general office."

Currently the 2014 budget plans for 36 full-time employees, including a proposed new a utilities supervisory position under Ryan Heise, director of operations. There are also three part-time positions.

The newest district, District 6, serving Country Club West, is facing more expenses because of the exit of developer Neal Communities from the leadership process, leaving homeowners responsible for maintenance. "It was the first year of my putting together their budget, so I decided to put everything in and they can pick and choose what they want to do. Although it was sticker shock at first, they need to know what their exposure is down the road so we can provide for it eventually," Zielinski said.

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