By Peggy Choudhry

As many of you are aware, communication and transparency is very important to me and during our budget season, I would like to share information pertaining to the way our county budget process works.

Some of you might have seen me ask many questions in my first year regarding our budget and our expenditures, I did this because it is my belief that we cannot continue as the “status quo.” I have expressed my opposition to raising taxes or fees in any way to the taxpayers and instead, focus on our local government changing its priorities and the way it spends money. I believe we have a priority and spending issue not a funding issue. Just like you or I would watch how much we spend per month so that we don’t over spend in our personal budgets, I believe that we as a county should be doing the same. As normal citizens we worry about providing the necessities to our families first and then if additional funds permits, we may buy a luxury item. So let’s get into the county budget process.

 

The county’s budget is basically a large pie comprised mostly of funds with specific revenue and expenditure restrictions. While the single largest fund is the General Fund, which generally accounts for services typically thought of for government, such as the Sheriff, Corrections, Community Development, Administration, and Emergency Management, it is actually just a piece of the pie. Most of the pie is made up of numerous different funds. The different funds are required to ensure the specific revenue is spent as allowed. While there are more than 80 separate funds, some examples are related to Transportation, Tourism, Library Services, Countywide Fire/Rescue, management of debt, management of Capital Projects, Solid Waste, Osceola Parkway and insurances for the county to name a few.

The development of the “pie” / budget every year is done in accordance with Chapters 129, 200 and 197 of the Florida Statutes (F.S.), that guides overall budget development, administration, provides specific directions for the annual levy of property taxes, the corresponding budget adoption timeline and provides for the uniform method for levy, collection and enforcement of non-ad valorem assessments. To begin the process a number of steps are taken leading up to the adoption of a county budget. This includes review of the Board of County Commissioners approved Strategic Plan to ensure that the upcoming budget development captures the priorities, notes what has been accomplished and identifies ongoing projects. In addition, departments’ submit their budget requests, which are reviewed by County Administration.

The County Manager’s Recommended Budget is presented to the Board of County Commissioners in July for Board review and recommendations. This is also a good time for citizen involvement if you (the taxpayer) wants changes to the budget. This is a public meeting please feel free to attend or after this meeting let us know what you think about the recommended budget. The scheduled date for the FY19 Recommended Budget meeting is July 16 at 1:30 pm. After discussions are completed, the board establishes the rolled-back millage rates, proposed millage rates, and sets the date, time and location of the First Public Hearing. Directions provided by the Board for inclusion in the Tentative Budget are incorporated in time for the FY19 First Public Hearing. The proposed date for this hearing is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 6 pending Board approval.

The First Public Hearing establishes the Tentative Millage Rates and Budget, the Final Public Hearing date and location, and directs staff to advertise the Tentative Millage Rates and Budget in a newspaper of general paid circulation as mandated by F.S. 200.   Upon completion of the First Public Hearing, the Board then adopts the Five Year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). The Special Assessments Public Hearings are also held during this meeting in which the Board adopts the Special Assessments Rates for the County’s Municipal Service Benefit Units (MSBUs).

Finally, all direction received during the First Public Hearing is compiled to prepare the Final Recommended Budget for consideration at the Final Public Hearing. The entire budget adoption process must conclude with a Final Public Hearing held in September as required by State Statutes. The FY19 Final Public Hearing is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 17, pending Board approval. At the Final Public Hearing the County’s Fiscal Year budget is adopted with an implementation date of Oct. 1.

I believe that positive results in an effective county budget can lead towards a greater result in “quality of life” for us all in our communities. So please if you feel the need to understanding, learning or asking questions regarding YOUR County budget and the process please contact our office. Getting involved is key when wanting to make a difference.

The County’s Public Hearing dates are as follows:

The County’s Budget Reconciliation Special Meeting is Monday, July 16th at 1:30 p.m.

Special Assessment/First TRIM Public Hearing is Thursday, Sept. 6 at 5:30 p.m.

Second and Final TRIM Public Hearing is Monday, Sept. 17 at 5:30 p.m.

It will be held in the BCC Chamber Room – 1 Courthouse Square, Suite 4100, Kissimmee.

Please feel free to share any of your concerns, ideas or information by calling my office at 407-742-2000, or by email to Peggy.Choudhry@osceola.org.

Peggy Choudhry is the Osceola County commissioner for district 1.