Sarasota County is trying to figure out how to cut $16.7 million from next year’s budget, as it began this week a series of budget workshops with its various departments.
An estimated, 9.8% reduction in property-tax collection this year has forced the reduction in spending. That’s on top of a 12.4% reduction last year and a 16.6% drop in fiscal year 2009.
County officials, however, are predicting a dramatic turnaround in 2012. Based off of state economic forecasts, the county sees property values steadily increasing beginning that year (download budget projections here).
But, for now, they’re dealing with another dismal year for property-tax collection, which is the county’s main revenue source.
The county will receive an estimated $133 million in ad valorem revenue. That’s on par with the collection seven years ago.
“We’ll be operating at just slightly less in ad valorem revenue than in 2003,” said Dave Bullock, deputy county administrator.
Based on their economic projections and the anticipated cuts from its different departments, the County Commission voted to keep the millage rate the same as last year, 3.3107 mills.
County leaders discussed several new revenue-generating options to make up for the shortfall, including instituting a 1% to 10% public-service tax on things such as electricity, water and natural gas to raise $1.5 million to $15 million.
That tax would be levied in unincorporated Sarasota County only. Sarasota, Venice and North Port already have similar taxes.
Commissioner Shannon Staub felt if the county were to institute such a tax, the time to do so would have been years ago, and the commission consensus was to leave it alone.
Each county department was tasked with keeping costs as low as possible for the coming year.
Overall, 22 of the county’s 27 largest offices and departments have budgets that are flat or lower than last year.
The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office uses the biggest chunk of the county’s operating budget. It is proposing an $87.1 million budget for 2011, which is less than 1% higher than the current year’s budget.
“This budget has no reduction in any positions (and) no loss in any public service,” said Sheriff Tom Knight.
More than $72 million of sheriff’s office costs come directly from personnel salaries and costs. Even so, Knight warned that the number of deputies needs to be monitored.
“Our (deputy) numbers are lower than most counties,” he said. “I want to be careful we don’t go any lower on deputies per capita.”
Sarasota County is currently anticipating a complete turnaround in the real-estate market in 2012. The county mimics state projections on property-tax collections. Although property values have decreased since 2007, the state expects values to begin to increase in 2012.
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