MANATEE -- The county is relying on its savings account, eliminated positions and retirement contributions to cut $8 million from the proposed $976 million budget for next year.
While taxes will not rise, the budget proposal recommends a 3 percent increase in both water and sewer fees. The budget is based on projections that property tax revenues -- which currently finance $453 million of county expenses -- will continue to decrease over the next two years. Over the past year alone, Manatee County has seen a $1.2 billion drop in taxable property values.
The county predicts that tax rolls will hit bottom in 2013 and then slowly begin to rise again. For now, however, the county will continue to rely on its reserves, or savings account, which is projected to be at $93.4 million.
Over the next three years, the county expects to have to cut another $9 million from the budget. It will use about $50 million from reserves over the next four years, County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said Wednesday as he presented his proposed budget to county commissioners.
“Previously we had no knowledge of how deep the decline in property values would go,” he said. “Now we have a pretty good idea of when the declines will hit bottom.”
The $453 million funded by tax revenues is $16 million less than the county plans to spend this year. That means, if the budget is passed as is, homeowners will not see any increases from the county’s portion of the ad valorem taxes. A homeowner with a homestead property valued at $150,000 will pay $1,036.54 in county taxes.
Under the budget proposal for the coming fiscal year, the county will use $15.2 million from the savings account to cover general operating expenses, $1.9 million for equipment and software, $1.3 million for consulting fees from attorneys and other agencies, and nearly $175,000 to cover increased fuel costs.
The county also eliminated 11 positions from the parks and recreation department because of a “reduction in customer demand for after-school programs.” It also reduced program costs by $248,400. The county also expects to save money by privatizing the two county golf courses.
The county also plans to reduce the number of open hours at the central library downtown from 56 to 48, saving the county a total of $116,000.
For the fifth year in a row, the budget does not include any pay increases for county employees, but does offer a one-time year-end $1,000 bonus to every employee to help offset the cost of their newly mandated contributions to the Florida Retirement System.
The budget proposal, which fell below $1 billion for the second year, also includes small reductions to the budgets for the county’s constitutional officers, including a nearly $500,000 decrease for the sheriff’s office -- even though Sheriff Brad Steube had asked for a 4.1 percent increase to his budget.
The sheriff attended the meeting and had one simple request: that his June 14 budget presentation, which includes 3 percent across-the board salary increases for all of the Sheriff’s Office employees, be held in the commission chambers and that it be televised.
Commissioners typically hold their work sessions in a large fourth-floor meeting room where they can sit around a table with staff. But Steube indicated in his request that the meeting room would be too small for the number of people who would attend his presentation.
While the proposed budget currently does not call for any tax increases, Hunzeker said the county’s staff will offer the county commissioners information on its options in setting higher tax rates.
County commissioners were ready to get their scalpels out Wednesday afternoon as Hunzeker presented the overall budget, which included $200,000 for the little-used Longboat Key Trolley. Several of the commissioners said that money could be better spent elsewhere, including at the downtown library.
An all-day budget work session is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Monday.