As local governments work through their annual budget seasons, they all face the same thing: the fifth year of declining revenues.
But Sarasota County is in better shape than most — not because of a smaller decline or necessarily tighter spending over the years, but because former County Administrator Jim Ley and previous County Commissions budgeted about $100 million in a rainy-day fund during the go-go years.
It has been a rainy half-decade economically, yet the county softened deep cuts with that fund to keep the tax rate the same again for the following year. But the tax declines keep coming (see chart, which does not include the capital budget or enterprise funds, such as utilities).
This year, the county is still drawing down those reserves and making more cuts. It is important commissioners do not drain the backup, because county government needs to be smaller and leaner for many years to come.
Two areas that will be felt the most by residents will be reduced library hours and increased bus fees. Bus fares will go from 75 cents per ride to $1.25, which still will be subsidized by taxpayers.
Commissioner Jon Thaxton called these and other cuts “painful.” In some ways, yes. But we are in a long economic downturn, and the future is still murky. A lot of people, particularly in construction, real estate and banking, continue to live in pain far more serious than inconvenient library hours and 50 cents more to ride the bus.
All projects point to at least one more year of decling revenues, maybe more. Sarasota County needs to keep prioritizing, funding necessities such as law enforcement and trimming lesser services.
Sarasota County Budget Comparison
Adopted Budget Preliminary Budget Change
General Fund Major Revenues:
Property taxes (county-wide) $133,537,656 $125,171,698 -6.3%
Half-cent sales tax $21,381,517 $21,343,830 -0.2%
FP&L franchise fee $18,509,224 $16,109,505 -13.0%
Communications services tax $10,876,705 $10,446,246 -4.0%
State revenue sharing $6,856,885 $7,382,076 7.7%
Other Major Revenues:
Impact fees $7,108,389 $4,145,880 -41.7%
Infrastructure sales surtax $26,992,370 $25,156,206 -6.8%
Gas taxes $16,206,604 $16,302,414 0.6%
Tourist development tax $10,557,702 $11,642,760 10.3%
Totals $252,027,052 $237,700,615 -5.7%
Source: Sarasota County Budget Department