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County considering cuts to meet $92M shortfall

By Staff | Sep 4, 2009

Lee County will have to do more with less during the 2009-10 fiscal year as officials are faced with tough spending decisions while trying to stave off $160 million in revenue declines over the last two years.
Having already decided to tentatively leave the millage rate of $5.34 of taxable value for every $1,000 the same, commissioners are looking to tap into general reserve funds to meet the $92 million shortfall.
The exact nature of pending cuts is not yet clear, but the board has maintained throughout the budgetary process that no core services will be affected.
As county staff went through the budget line by line with commissioners during a workshop Thursday evening, it became clear that some sacrifices will have to be made for core services to remain untouched.
One item that sparked heavy debate was the county’s $25 million reserve funds used to attract high-skill, high-wage jobs.
Having only spent $1.7 million during the 2008-09 year, commissioners have to decide whether to bolster the funds back up to the original figure of $25 million.
“I don’t see a need to replenish it right now,” Commissioner Frank Mann said. “It was a $25 million commitment, it’s still a $25 million commitment … these things have a way of taking on a life of their own.”
Mann maintained that, whether or not a full $25 million exists in the fund, the county still made the commitment and there is plenty of money available.
He also feared that it would become a well of money that would need constant replenishment.
Jim Moore, director of the economic development office, worried about the overall use of the fund as a marketing tool.
“It’s a nice round number to advertise,” he said. “It has a ring to it, more so than a number that’s fractionalized.”
Another point of contention was school resource officers.
The commission was split on their importance to the schools and students of Lee County.
Lt. Mike White of the sheriff’s office cited past high school and campus shootings as pivotal reason for onsite officers, but pointedly said the officers’ day-to-day impact is hard to gauge.
“It’s hard to tell what you prevent … but we believe it’s become a core service,” he said.
Commissioner Bob Janes worried that the officers, while important, should fall on the school district, not the county.
“I can’t see a fifty-fifty participation at this point,” he said of the two governing bodies. “It’s the school board that has the responsibility in this issue.”
The proposed budget for the 2009-10 year is $631 million. Property values decreased by 22 percent countywide.
The next budget hearing is 5 p.m. Sept. 17 in the Lee County Commission chambers. Public input will be taken.
The final budget will be adopted Sept. 17.