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Lee County approves budget

By Staff | Sep 23, 2010

The Lee County Commission adopted a total budget of approximately $2.01 billion for fiscal year 2010-11 during its final public hearing Thursday.
The total budget, including millage rates, passed 3-2 with Commissioners Frank Mann and Brian Bigelow dissenting. The adopted budget breaks down as $621,564,506 toward operations, with $400,545,929 for county operating departments and $221,018,577 for constitutional officers and courts.
Operating departments are economic development, parks and recreation, and public safety, among others. The Lee County Sheriff’s Office, tax collector, state attorney and supervisor of elections fall under constitutional offices and courts. This portion of the budget experienced a 4.67 percent decrease compared to last year’s adopted budget.
The total budget also includes $288,695,973 for capital projects and $448,170,546 to cover other areas, such as major maintenance, debt service and insurance. Compared to last year’s budget, capital projects funding shows a decrease of 17.95 percent. Major maintenance increased 2.7 percent, debt service by 3.24 and insurance by 9.6.
The $2.01 billion budget is a 2.81 percent decrease from last year’s $2.07 billion total.
Prior to voting, Mann voiced concern for the county’s future financial stability.
“I think we’re headed to a fiscal crash in three years,” he said, adding that he would have liked to see more substantial cutbacks. “I thought we should have done more this year.”
During discussion of countywide budgets, the commission restored the balance of funding for LeeTran and maintained a Sunday bus route with a 3-2 vote that adopted the countywide millages and budgets. Mann and Bigelow dissented on the overall vote.
“I view the LeeTran program as much as a social service program as a transportation program,” Mann said.
Hall said “3 percent of the neediest population” depend on LeeTran, but she would like an advisory committee or such put in place to keep the system “whole and productive.”
The general fund millage rate put to a vote was 3.6506, and the capital improvement Conservation 20/20 fund millage was .5000. Both passed 4-1 with Commissioner Brian Bigelow dissenting, which resulted in a total, countywide millage rate of 4.1506.
One mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value, or about $415 in taxes for every $100,000 of assessed property value.
At the first public hearing, the general fund millage was reduced from the rolled-back rate of 4.2835 to the 3.6506. The rolled-back millage rate is the amount of taxes needed to raise the same amount of revenue as the previous year. When property values decrease, the so-called “roll-back” rate is actually higher.
The rolled-back rate for the Conservation 20/20 fund was .5887. The total, countywide rolled-back rate: 4.8722.
During discussion on the proposed budgets, Assistant City Attorney Pete Winton told the commission that more than 400 positions have been cut over the last three years and that the workforce has been reduced by 15 percent. This year, the county increased the amount employees will pay for insurance and implemented furlough days, among other things, to save additional money.
Bigelow questioned staffers’ projections and reserve spending.
“We believe that to reduce that gap is going to require, ultimately, a combination of continued cuts and greater revenues,” Winton said.
County Manager Karen Hawes explained that a reduction in staff numbers could result in a reduction of service, and in partnership with the commission, staffers would look at services and potential cuts.
“We will need to reduce in order to meet budget requirement next year,” she said.
Commissioner Ray Judah acknowledged county employees for stepping forward and recognizing their responsibility toward balancing the budget, noting that it is the third year they have not received a salary increase.
The library fund millage rate, which passed on a 3-2 vote, was kept at the rolled-back rate of 0.3383. It is an increase from the current rate — 0.2844. The library budget also passed on a 3-2 vote, with Mann and Bigelow dissenting on it as well as the tax rate.
Judah called it “short-sighted” to no go with the rolled-back rate.
“Libraries are a key backbone and social component to the community,” Hall said.
Bigelow stressed that libraries must be maintained as a service to the public, but he questioned cutting personnel costs.
“They have to come down,” he said.
The commission adopted the Lee County unincorporated MSTU millage rate of 0.8398 and the $27,208,741 budget, and the all hazards protection district millage rate of 0.0693 and the $745,739 budget. Bigelow dissented on all but the all hazards millage rate, and Mann dissented on the budgets.
Judah, and commissioners Tammy Hall and John Manning supported the rates and budgets.
Other budgets’ millages and budget were adopted 3-2 with Mann and Bigelow dissenting. These funds, supported by enterprise or non-ad valorem taxes, totaled $237,172,402.
On Thursday, the commission also adopted the final budget for the Lee County Port Authority. It passed 4-1 with Bigelow dissenting. During discussion, Mann moved for the board to consider disposing of the port-owned aircraft. Judah called the aircraft “extremely critical,” and Hall noted that it uses no capital from property taxes.
“We are not paying from our budget when we travel,” she said.
The motion failed with Judah, Hall and Manning dissenting.
Bigelow made a motion for a reduction in personnel costs, which failed.
The final tax rates and budgets for the street-lighting and special improvement/MSTUs and special improvement taxing units were also approved by the commission.