BRADENTON -- County administrator Ed Hunzeker made his first presentation of recommended budget expenditures to the board of county commissioners yesterday, with little in the way of surprises. After reducing the county budget more than $93 million over the last three years, the board is faced with the unenviable task of continuing with significant reductions in services and expenditures, in order to align with steadily dropping revenues.
Faced with a projected $24 million reduction in property taxes, owed not only to continued losses in value, but also the Constitutional amendments dictating specific reductions in property tax rates in the 2007 and 2008 budget years, the board must once again struggle to strike a balance between an acceptable level of service and responsible budgeting. Hunziker stressed that it is becoming increasingly clear that significantly lower revenues and smaller government are becoming a permanent reality, rather than a temporary situation and that the budget process must be considered with that in mind.
It's worth noting that Manatee County has fared significantly better than many municipalities with regard to fairly realistic expenditures during recent boom years and has the capacity to subsidize such reductions in service less abruptly than many of its counterparts. Many capital outlays are currently funded with recurring revenue sources that, as Hunzeker pointed out, can be redirected to other areas in next year's budget, allowing a more gradual step down in many services that the county will not be able to maintain at current levels. The administrator's office has produced a plan for gradually reducing reserves over the next four years, if such funds are required to maintain budget stabilization.
The recommended budget of just under $470 million is the second part of a two-year, zero-based budget process. The recommendation for authorized positions nets 53 less county employees. Many of the proposed cuts would be achieved by not reauthorizing current unfilled positions, with an effort to relocate other displaced employees to vacant positions that remain authorized. Public Works would be hardest hit if the proposal is adopted, with 18 positions less than this year, followed by building management with a loss of 10, due to such a significant reduction in development.
Libraries, which have been hard hit in recent years, would not suffer additional reductions in operating hours, though two positions are not recommended for funding. The bookmobile would be taken out of service, and student outreach programs would be reduced. Lifeguards would be reduced by three and the area of beach patrolled, possibly reduced.
Initially, a $1 fee was discussed for the Anna Maria Island Trolley, however, input from the community convinced the administrator that such revenue could be generated by already proposed fund raising measures. The trolley's service extension to Long Boat Key has not met rider expectations and is funded by a matched grant that expires in July, so it would discontinued, saving the $146,000 in matched funds.
It was also asserted that the county is continuing to lose money on its golf courses, despite ongoing reductions in expenses. Though fees to play the courses are the lowest in the area, Hunzeker said that increasing costs and a shrinking market for golf have made them increasingly prone to operating losses.
The budget also included $500,000 in new economic development incentives. The presentation was generally applauded by the board with most questions involving clarification of terms and requests for additional statistics. The next scheduled budget work session will be held June 10.
Click here to view the county administrator's recommended budget and presentation documents.
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