Osceola County staff unveiled a first look at the upcoming 2019-20 fiscal year during a budget hearing Monday afternoon.
More than $1.15 billion is proposed in the county’s budget – but that number doesn’t include major capital projects to be added in later.
Big spending priorities are slated for firefighter service – including two new rescue units and 18 additional employees – along with upgrades to the Osceola County Jail, courthouse and, possibly, a new West U.S. Highway 192 command center for the Sheriff’s Office.
During a presentation, county staff cited spending increases for transportation, including top-priority projects along Neptune Road, Boggy Creek Road and Reeves Road.
No increase to property taxes
The millage rate, which directly impacts property taxes, isn’t set to increase in 2019-20.
“I don’t think the time is now for a millage increase,” said County Commission Chair Cheryl Grieb.
Some county officials had made previous comments about possibly raising the millage if a special 1 percent sales tax vote for transportation failed in May.
It did fail. But at the same time, property values in Osceola County increased for the seventh year in a row. This year’s 12.05 percent bump resulted in the highest property values in Osceola since the recession hit in 2008.
But for Grieb, the $20.5 million increase in the general fund isn’t enough to address the more than $1.2 billion of roadwork projects waiting in Osceola County.
“We’re already trying to solve that backlog,” she said. ‘This is the commission of playing catch-up.”
About $10.9 million of the $20.5 million general fund increase is going to the Transportation Trust Fund. The rest, according to county documents, has already been accounted for, mostly to help offset tax breaks for Tax Increment Funds (TIF) districts on East and West U.S. 192 and community redevelopment efforts by the cities of St. Cloud and Kissimmee. These special districts offset tax increases to spur growth and development in targeted areas – but more tax revenue must be made up during budget time in the general fund.
More fire service needed
Two new rescue units are being requested for the fast-growing west side of Osceola County, an area dominated by tourism and new developments like Margaritaville.
Eighteen new employees are needed to staff these units, along with a proposed fire station near Austin Tindell Park.
The new hires are expected to increase salary costs by $1.35 million.
Money for firefighter salaries will come from the Fire Fund. It also means $12 more a year for residents in special assessment costs.
Improvements at the jail and courthouse
Projects at the Osceola County Jail to correct water, piping and HVAC repair issues were discussed Monday, but cost estimates won’t be determined until the budget’s final hearing in September.
Fourteen new correctional officers are being requested and $993,389 in additional salary is set aside for the upcoming fiscal year.
No major hiring events have taken place at the jail since at least 2005, according to county staff.
The new hires are meant to offset overtime costs, said County Manager Don Fisher, while also increasing security at the facility.
“I think with more people, the safer correction officers will be and the safer inmates will be,” Fisher said. “I thought 14 (employees) from a public safety aspect made sense.”
Correctional Services is also requesting an additional $74,643 for office equipment and operating supplies.
At the courthouse, funds are being considered for a new judge’s chamber along with other improvements.
The budget will be fine-tuned by staff in upcoming weeks. For the first time, residents will get a chance to pour over figures for themselves in a new Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee and share their recommendations with commissioners. The first committee meeting ocurred Tuesday.
The final budget takes effect Oct. 1.
Residents can also review the proposed budget on the homepage of www.osceola.org.