A blog dealing with Sarasota County and the City of Sarasota.

Monday, September 8, 2008

County Budget ::yawn:: Hearing [Plain Speak Version]

For those of you who missed tonight's (September 8th) County Budget Hearing in Venice, here's a brief recap. Neither of my District One opponents made the scene, not even the one who seems to have a lot of pointed and critical questions about the budget.

First of all it is a very structured (stilted) form of meeting, with a prescribed script and parts read almost like a responsive reading. The language is some form of legal/technical and the sum total of the requirements renders the process relatively opaque. 

The Chair made it clear that this was not the meeting to contest the appraised value of property or discuss Grant-in-Aid awards. I think that clarification reduced the number of likely speakers.

While there appeared to be at least a couple of dozen citizens in the audience, only one spoke to question the cost of a water line extension on Shore Road. A county staff member attempted to explain the relative roles of parcels versus equivalent dwelling units (EDU's) in establishing the appropriate fees and the Chairman encouraged them to discuss the matter further outside in the hall. 

The big news is a bump up from a $184,000 increase (from the draft budget) to half a million for grants in aid. These funds are distributed the various Human Services agencies in the county, and there is a demonstrated increased need, even though most agencies submitted flat (no increase) budget requests. Four Commissioners supported the increase, with Commissioner Mercier voting against. He seemed to argue that adding funds now would result in much more painful cuts next year.

The county also added $1.6 million to cover anticipated increases in the cost of energy next year. 

Blog readers may be pleasantly surprised to learn that the adopted net total budget per capita is lower than FY 2005, 2006 and 2007. In addition, the number of employees per citizen continues to drop. 

A local appraiser hired by the county reported that when everything is considered it is cheaper, or at least better value, to have central water than a well and septic tank. 

The meeting ended with a long list of rate changes for various lighting districts [Shadow Lakes Lighting District saw a decrease in millage rates, all the others went up, some by more than 50%.] That was followed by some ritualized roll call voting.

Chairman Staub expressed her dissatisfaction with the state-required format and noted that the Governor was advocating a move towards "plain speak", which apparently is supposed to be a more straightforward way to convey government actions. It was clear she didn't believe the budget adoption came close to meeting that goal.

A final hearing will be held September 22 at 7:00 p.m. in the County Administration Building on Ringling. 

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