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Sarasota City Commission
Sarasota Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018 9 months ago

City looks ahead to 2018-19 budget

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Preliminary estimates show a nearly $1.5 million general fund budget deficit. Commissioners had different approaches on a solution.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

The city isn’t even halfway through fiscal year 2017-18, but the City Commission is already looking ahead to next year’s budget.

On Monday, the City Commission held a special meeting to get a preliminary outline of the 2018-19 budget. The meeting was designed to discuss basics, outline challenges and identify opportunities in the coming year, as well as give the commission a chance to direct staff as it prepares budget proposals.

Much of the attention at Monday’s meeting focused on an overview of the general fund budget. Although staff currently projects revenues to increase from $66.8 million to $69.6 million, expenditures are expected to rise from $68.5 million to $71.1 million.

The early gap in next year’s budget was a source of concern for some commissioners. City staff identified several sources of increased expenditures in the preliminary 2018-19 budget. One of the largest ones was $1.9 million to assume control of parks the county currently operates, a change expected to occur later this year.

Kelly Strickland, the city’s director of financial administration, said the 2018-19 budget projections did not incorporate information regarding potential revenue from those parks. Still, the responsibility for the parks is likely to negatively affect the city’s balances.

Another major expense is a projected $1 million subsidy for Bobby Jones Golf Club. The golf complex is designed to operate as an enterprise fund, where the revenues fund the expenditures. But last year, Bobby Jones exhausted its reserves and required a $425,000 general fund subsidy.

That was the first time staff could recall the golf course requiring a subsidy, but Bobby Jones has continued to struggle. Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie and Commissioner Hagen Brody both directed staff to provide more information on why Bobby Jones was faring poorly enough to demand such a large cash infusion.

“That’s really outrageous, and I think the community is going to agree that subsidizing that golf course to that extent is really ludicrous,” Brody said.

Brody said he’d like to see staff attempt to rein in the expenditures included in the preliminary budget, expressing frustration that a budget gap exists even in a prosperous economic time. His targets for potential cuts included a planned 3% raise for non-bargaining employees, a $278,000 general fund expense.

“In my opinion, these are the folks that got us to the $1.4 million deficit,” Brody said.

Eddie asked staff to search for ways to allocate money for issues she believes the city should prioritize, such as affordable housing and the addition of police personnel.

The rest of the commission, however, did not provide much direction to staff at this point in time. Staff is scheduled to provide formal budget proposals to the commission in June, followed by a series of workshops and meetings throughout the summer.

Until the city has a firmer understanding of the financial realities of the 2018-19 fiscal year, other commissioners were hesitant to offer strong feedback.

“I think it’s too premature to say you can’t do this and you can’t do that,” Vice Mayor Liz Alpert said.

UPDATE: This article has been edited to correct details regarding the 2017-18 city budget.

I'm David and I cover city government and neighborhood news for the Sarasota Observer. I graduated from the University of Missouri in 2012. Reach me at 941-366-3468 ext. 360.

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