published: Sunday, August 25, 2013
County trims deficit
By BARRY FOSTER
SEBRING -- In an effort to close the gap between revenue and spending, Highlands County Commissioners Thursday night sharpened their pencils and made a number of significant budget cuts for the upcoming fiscal year.
Among other things, commissioners totally eliminated funding to the Highlands County Industrial Development Authority/Economic Development Commission, decided to cut out projected raises for county employees and will impose a formula that will cut allocations to the county's constitutional officers.
The elimination of the money to the IDA/EDC came on a unanimous vote, with commission chair Jack Richie pointing out that the county's funding for that organization goes only to the Industrial Development Authority side while noting that the county had seen no results from the millions of dollars pumped into the operation over nearly three decades. The defunding was set only for the upcoming fiscal year.
When it came to the constitutional officers -- such as the supervisor of elections, clerk of courts and sheriff -- commissioner Jim Brooks remarked the county had "very little wiggle room." Commissioner Don Elwell then unveiled a formula of tailored reductions allowing for a 1 percent raise using a base year as a template.
"We want a comparable year. For the supervisor of elections, for instance, that would be 2009-10 when they had off-year elections," he said. "For the sheriff, that would be this past year."
Highlands County Clerk of Courts Bob Germaine pointed out his information technology department had taken over operations for several other offices, including the county. After making allowances for those programs, Germaine agreed to go along with the plan.
"As long as everybody else is on board with it, we can make it work," he said.
In an effort to get to a "zero net gain" for the county, commissioners cut proposed raises for their staff for a $169,000 savings.
Elwell pointed out that each dollar saved also had the added effect of reducing the amount needed for the so-called "rainy day fund" because as cuts were made it became increasingly more efficient to run the county in the event of a natural disaster or other emergency.
Although county staff has not yet completed a final tabulation for the specific numbers, it appears the county has reduced a $6 million gap between revenue and spending to about $1.4 million.
"A potential millage increase to 8.3 mills has been greatly reduced, with a maximum millage increase now sitting at about 7.5 mils or so," said Elwell
The session began with Highlands County Senior Manager of the Office of Management and Budget Tim Mechling making a detailed presentation outlining previous cuts made by the board, then bringing back items for discussion that had previously been heard by the board.
One item that has escaped the knife to date was recreation funding to the cities. Reductions over the years have seen the county move from a formula that saw nearly half the municipalities' recreation budgets reimbursed now down to a simple $110,000 across-the-board payment to each of the three municipalities. Commissioners briefly looked at cutting even that money.
In the end, the recreation reimbursement remained in the budget. However, commissioners vowed during the upcoming year to look into the possibility of establishing a municipal service taxing unit or other such vehicle to underwrite both passive recreation as well as for-purpose sports facilities in the county.
One suggestion that was not acted upon was the notion of stopping work on Phase III of the Sebring Parkway. Resident and former commission candidate Chester Downing put forward the idea, noting that there already are three routes from Sebring to Avon Park and saying a fourth, in his opinion, was not a priority at this time.
The issue of the budget is not yet over. Staff members were instructed to bring back additional information for next Tuesday's monthly nighttime session that will be held at the county commission chambers beginning at 5 p.m.
budget cuts (by: county employee - 8/27/2013)
Now a seventh year county employees haven't seen a raise. I've already lost my house. Now I'll probably loose my car. Or tell my kids they can't eat or no new shoes.
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