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Sarasota Monday, Sep. 14, 2020 1 week ago

County considers $1.3 billion budget

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The county will consider a millage rate of 3.46 and a general fund budget of $323 million at its final budget hearing Sept. 23.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

During a budget hearing Monday, Sarasota County Commissioners were unanimous in their support for a total budget of $1.3 billion and a millage rate of 3.46 for fiscal year 2021. 

Though commissioners will hold a final budget hearing Sept. 23, they all showed favor for the budget, for which the planning has been made difficult due to the effects of COVID-19 on county revenue. 

Still to come this year, the county expects a $7.3 million decrease in general fund revenue and a $9.4 million loss to the general fund in 2021.

Though he said the U.S. economy will soon begin to recover, in a previous budget meeting Director of the Institute for Economic Forecasting Sean Snaith warned commissioners that money from the tourist development tax and gas tax could be slow to grow. 

“There is a fear of traveling right now,” Snaith said. “So we have to think about what the fear factor will be. How willing are people going to be to get into those beds? Will snowbirds leave the nest to come down this winter?”

County leaders also anticipate a loss of $12.8 million in funds such as the Tourist Development Tax, gas tax and surtax for this year, and $16 million in losses for similar funds in fiscal year 2021. 

To help combat the total anticipated $45 million in losses, leaders are preparing to make cuts, which include $5 million of “paused spending” from the general fund on items such as promotional activities, unfilled vacancies and training and travel. 

Commissioners also approved a millage rate of 3.46, up 0.0269 mills or .78% from fiscal year 2020. 

The county’s millage rate is broken into individual segments for general operating, debt service for the Environmentally Sensitive Lands Protection Program, debt service for the Legacy Trail and the county’s mosquito control district.

Kim Radtke, the director of the Office of Financial Management, said the increase in millage is due to the voter-approved bonds for the extensions to the Legacy Trail into downtown Sarasota and North Port. 

In the 2018 general election, more than 70% of voters approved a referendum allowing the issuance of bonds up to $65 million for the project. A second set of bonds was issued in February, mean the debt service on the bonds will increase in 2021. 

Another project that continues to weigh on the county’s budget is a renovation of the Bee Ridge Water Reclamation Facility into an advanced wastewater treatment facility. A $157 million upgrade is in progress at the facility, which as long been blamed for major contributions to the county’s poor water quality. 

Meanwhile, the county also is deciding how best to allocate $18.9 million of the total $75.7 million it could receive in coronavirus relief funding. The first portion of the funds will be distributed in three categories: economic recovery, health and medical, and food, water and shelter. 

Applications for these loans are expected to open soon. 

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