For the ninth consecutive year, the county’s general fund millage rate will not increase under the county manager’s recommended budget presented to County Commissioners on Monday. The overall tax rate also will remain the same as last year.
However, this year’s budget is a balancing act between available resources and the demand of mandated and core responsibilities alongside concentrated efforts to grow and strengthen the County with desired quality of life amenities, county officials said.
The impact of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School
led to a significant increase in the Sheriff’s Office budget request for fiscal year 2019 due to changes in state legislation that mandated a major change in staffing in order to keep children safe.
The budget process is ongoing and on Monday Sheriff Russ Gibson talked about his office’s efforts to keep spending under control – even with the state’s unfunded mandate for more school resource officers.
Commissioners were appreciative of the effort. In a switch from previous years, all the constitutional officers (and LYNX) were invited to make budget presentations to the board.
“I wanted to change things up this year,” said Commission Chairman Fred Hawkins, Jr. “This is a way for our citizens to see the big picture, become aware of the challenges we face – as well as what future needs might be, whether it is new polling places or new locations for government services.”
The county continues experiencing many positive signs that the economy is recovering as property valuations increased by 10.65 percent, though they have still not reached fiscal year 2008 valuations (pre-recession levels). The fiscal year 2019 recommended budget includes an overall similar level of service, such as maintaining the road resurfacing program at the same level ($9 million) as the current year, continuation of the commitment to public safety, fire/EMS stations, equipment and training facility, with specific budget items directly tied to the board-approved Strategic Plan.
“I would like to express my appreciation, as always, to all of our partners (the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court, the County Attorney, Commission Auditor, our Constitutional Officers, etc.). In addition, my staff was again diligent in their efforts to present a Recommended Budget that maintains service levels,” said County Manager Don Fisher. “Through the leadership of the Board and efforts of our partners, I believe we were able to submit a budget for fiscal year 2019 that still provide services to the citizens with minimal impact to taxes.”
It was just the start of the budget process, with many opportunities for residents to give their input remaining. While millage rates were set on Monday, they cannot be raised, only lowered. Staff will continue to make adjustments to the budget, based on direction from the board, in preparation for the first public hearing, county officials said.
The first public hearing on the tax rates proposed for the budget will be held at 5:30 p.m., Sept. 6 in the Board of County Commission Chambers, 1 Courthouse Square, Room 4100, Kissimmee.