MANATEE -- Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker outlined five budget priorities for the coming year at a Tuesday commission work session.
A new public safety radio system, expanded Manatee County Area Transit system and Animal Services upgrades were three priorities the Manatee County Commission previously committed to for next year. Health care funding and employee compensation rounded out Hunzeker's priorities.
"We need to focus on where we are going," Hunzeker said. "We thought it would be good to have a discussion with you to make sure we are on the same page."
No specific numbers were presented since property values have not been determined. Priority specifics were not discussed although in February the commission
approved additional funding for Animal Services to add staff, and upgrade medical supplies, food quality, scanners and equipment.
The commission will receive a recommended budget plan at 1:30 p.m. May 28 in commission chambers. A series of summer workshops and meetings will follow ending in budget adoption in September.
Hunzeker said he believes property taxes will rise and there will be additional money to spend.
In regard to health funding, the uncertainty in Tallahassee regarding Medicaid expansion will affect the county budget, Hunzeker said. A fund the county uses to pay for indigent health care is almost exhausted.
"We are going to do something," Hunzeker said. "Given the conflict in Tallahassee, we don't know what is going to happen in health care but we are committed."
County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said raising employee compensation is high on her list.
"We need to start looking at the people here at the county," she said.
Hunzeker said it is not always about the money.
"The board has been very generous to employees," he said. "It is the environment people work in and enjoy coming to work. It isn't always about the money. For the most part, the employees of Manatee County like working for Manatee County."
Commission Chairwoman Betsy Benac said it is important to look at what the county has funded in the past.
"I know we are trying to set future priorities, but it is important to recognize where we've been and where we are going," she said.
Commissioner Robin DiSabatino said they have to look at funding streams other than property taxes and impact fees.
"We are going to need to explore that moving forward," she said.
Hunzeker said other funding sources could help. Hunzeker also pointed out the community has grown over the last 10 years even though the county workforce has not. There are just 4.9 employees per 1,000 residents.
"People will pay for quality. You just have to provide it for them," Hunzeker said. "As the population continues to grow, that stress is felt in the workforce."
As Manatee County population continues to increase, quality of life issues arise, officials said. With Manatee County growth projected to continue, Baugh said the county needs to look at things differently.
"We can't just keep doing everything the same way as we've done in the past," she said. "If we do, we keep getting the same results. ... We are not the same community that we were five years ago. We've grown, grown and grown. I do hope this year we do look at things differently."
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.