Must-read: No belt-tightening for Martin County, Commissioners begin budget hearings today

 

From Ginny Sherlock, renowned local attorney, civic activist, and former Associated Press editor: Martin County Commissioners begin budget hearings at 9:00 a.m. today with little apparent interest in belt-tightening before next month’s referendum asking taxpayers to agree to pay higher sales taxes to finance more local government spending.

Budget meetings are scheduled Monday and Tuesday, and will wrap up on Wednesday to establish a tentative new property tax rate for the 2018 fiscal year.   

Monday’s meeting will feature budget proposals for Constitutional officers (sheriff, tax collector, court clerk, property appraiser, supervisor of elections, courts) and the Building, Engineering, Administration, County Attorney, Fire Rescue and General Services departments.  On Tuesday, Commissioners will discuss Airport, Growth Management, IT, Library, Parks and Recreation, Utilities and Solid Waste departments and non-departmental expenditures. 

The regular Commission meeting on Tuesday has only a few items — two re-zoning requests, an airport sublease, and some revised development approvals.  The Consent Agenda includes contracts that will cost taxpayers $5.4 million.  It’s not surprising that the Commission doesn’t want to publicly discuss and vote on those expenditures, including a $1.75 million construction contract for the Customs facility at Witham Field.

The budget proposal is posted on the County website (click on the budget book block on the home page at www.martin.fl.us). The book is 500+ pages of bureaucratic gobbledygook and hard-to-decipher charts and graphs, but a letter prepared by the County Administrator sets out basic concepts, such as a request to add 22 full-time staff positions and $130,000 for new vehicles for new employees.  

There is no belt-tightening in sight; increased spending is the rule.  

A 1.78% increase in the ad valorem tax rate is proposed, accompanied by an increase in property valuation that will bring in still more tax revenue.  A 17% local sales tax hike, if voters approve the August 29 referendum, will make still more money available for Commissioners to spend on pet projects and activities without cutting back excess spending.

Only two of the 13 identified budget categories have proposed decreased funding (principal and interest on loans and reserves).  

One category (contracted services) includes both increased and decreased funding, but the decrease is caused by an “accounting transaction” that essentially moves funds from one account to another while the increased funding reflects higher costs for animal care, waste management, maintenance services and whatever it is that the Business Development Board does. 

The remaining 10 categories call for increased funding — even for already bloated categories like employee travel, dues and memberships, grants and aid handouts, and CRA funding.  

Here’s the rundown provided by the County Administrator:

 Salary & Wages – Increase: Implementation of pay and classification plan for employees and providing for wage adjustments and additional personnel proposed in the FY18 Tentative Budget

 Fringes and Benefits – Increase: FRS employer contribution, salary adjustments and additional personnel, x 50.8% 7.3% 41.9% Figure 2: Staffing Allocation BOCC Enterprise Constitutional Ofc’s

 Contracted Services – Decrease: A large accounting transaction capitalizing prior contracted services moved monies ($5.7M) from this category to Land & Land Improvements. Increases: Additional monies for the Technology Investment Plan (TIP) for software upgrades and enhancements ($455K), Waste Management Construction & Debris contract increase ($400K), Enhanced cleaning and maintenance for Parks ($200K), Humane Society contract agreement ($183K)

 Travel – Increase: investing in employees to provide adequate training

 Maintenance, Materials & Other – Increase: Utilities repair & maintenance ($334K), Indirect Cost allocations ($500K), Health Insurance increase for wellness agreement and utilization ($584K), vehicle repair & maintenance ($197K)

 Supplies – Increase: Software licenses and upgrades ($450K), Enhanced software support ($320K), Athletic field materials ($80K), Chemicals ($50K)

 Publications/Memberships & Tuition – Increase: Providing for technical competence and certifications as required for employees ($44K), Supervisor of Elections ($7K), Southeast Florida Library Information Network (SEFLIN) membership ($6K) allowing south county residents to utilize Palm Beach County library system, county memberships ($7K)

 Land & Land Improvements – Increase: Accounting transaction moving monies from contracted services to this category for capitalization purposes ($5.7M), Golden Gate Septic to Sewer project ($7M), Martin Downs Water-main project ($5.9M)

 Furniture & Equipment – Increase: Utilities Replacement & Renewal (R&R) program ($270K), Library Collections ($105K), vehicles for additional personnel ($130K)

 Principal & Interest – Decrease: Fluctuates based upon debt service principal and interest payments

 Grants & Aid – Increase: County CRA TIF contribution increase from 50% to 75% ($1.28M) City of Stuart (City) CRA TIF contribution ($150K), FP&L constant millage agreement ($600K)

 Reserves – Decrease: Monies that were accumulated and expended in FY17 for capital projects in Utilities

 Interfund Transfers – Increase: Constitutional Officers’ budget requests ($2.4M), establishing a budget for Supervisor of Elections which was previously reflected in the Clerk of the Circuit Court & Comptroller’s budget ($1.1M), debt service transfer for bond refunding ($6.8M). 

Apparently, the County intends to simply keep on spending and to ask taxpayers to keep on paying more rather than to make any serious effort to spend less.

As Ronald Reagan famously said: “We could say the government spends like drunken sailors, but that would be unfair to the drunken sailors, because the sailors are spending their own money.”

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