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Commissioners get tour of Manatee's budget


BRADENTON - It's called the Decision Units book, and there are a lot of decisions to be made about county jobs and services.

Budget meetings

  • Workshop on Thursday, June 18, at 3 p.m. at the Manatee County Administration Center, Room 502.
  • Public meeting on June 18 in same location at 6 p.m. in the County Commission chambers.

From the Agriculture and Resource Conservation Department to the Utilities Department, it's the road map of Manatee County's budget that's a bit closer to the ground than the 30,000-foot view that County Administrator Ed Hunzeker has mentioned in past budget workshops.

The public might only be interested in a few programs, Hunzeker said at Tuesday's workshop, likening the budget and capital improvement program documents to the phone book, which people use to look up numbers but no one reads it cover to cover.

On Wednesday, though, commissioners had to go through a goodly proportion of its 931 pages. Fortunately, there's a 52 MB online version in PDF format available at the county's Web site for those averse to lugging a huge pile of paper.

Jim Seuffert, the county's director of financial management, and Deputy County Administrator Dan Schlandt, who were guiding the meeting in Hunzeker's absence, had to defend the format of the budget early on from criticisms from commissioners that it didn't show last year's numbers for comparison purposes, as well as the presentation for individual programs.

One thing that caused a little confusion was that there were two pages for each department, one for the 2009/2010 budget and one for the 2010/2011 budget, and unfunded items showed up in both budgets, and sometimes at higher cost, though obviously those costs wouldn't be paid. Commissioner Donna Hayes asked why that was.

"If we're not funding it here, why would it appear here?" she asked.

She was told that was because the cost for a decision unit could be salaries, benefits and perks, and sometimes the cost of benefits or perks go up. Also, the commissioners might want to fund the position in the future, and thus would know how much that position would cost.

In any case, Seuffert said, it was the way the accounting system worked.

Commissioners Larry Bustle expressed some concern about where the numbers in the budget came from and worried that someone could game the system by requesting a lot more than needed, believing it would be cut.

Seuffert replied that departments have to start with last year's funding and that they could tell if someone was requesting too much and trying to do what Bustle described.

Each program is "zero-based," the introduction explains, with each program starting with no funding.

"The minimum cost necessary to operate the program is then determined and becomes the 'base unit.' The base is then built upon by adding 'decision units' with each unit being the cost for an increase in the level of service provided by the program. Each decision unit builds on the preceding unit up to a 'continuation level' which outlines the current operations of the department," the introduction explained. "Departments can submit 'desired' decision units for program expansions, enhancements or for new programs."

Each decision unit in the budget has a recommended status, either "Funded" or "Not Funded."

Also presented is a page with the revenue sources for the department listed, including ad valorem property taxes, general revenues and sometimes grants or other funding. Other pages included detailed descriptions of each decision unit, the justification for it, the consequences for not funding it, and why it was or was not recommended for funding.

It's hardly a surprise that in such a tight budget season, when the county has had to tighten its belt as the economy has slowed, that some "continuation level" items are unfunded and very few "desired level" items are being funded.

The process was intense at some points, with long discussions about items and concerns expressed about programs and personnel.

There were a few smiles at one point in the afternoon when Bustle asked, "Is someone going to tell us when we start having fun?"

At several points in the process, commissioners asked that items be flagged for future discussion, though in most cases they merely looked at the pages and moved to the next section.

The process is far from over, with another workshop scheduled for Thursday, June 18, at 3 p.m. and a public hearing the same day at 6 p.m. in the County Commission chambers. More meetings will be held in July and August.


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