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Sarasota Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018 2 years ago

County cuts $5.4 million after reframing budget discussion

County Administrator Jonathan Lewis hopes to put off some potential budget reductions until absolutely necessary.
by: Cassidy Alexander Staff Writer

In a departure from a months-long narrative, commissioners cut $5.4 million in recurring expenses from their budget on Jan. 31 — less than the planned $11 million.

Since last summer, county budget planners have been looking at ways to offset predicted budget shortfalls in coming fiscal years, based on the assumption that a pair of statewide property-tax referendums would win at the polls in November, resulting in less county revenue beginning in 2020.

If both measures — one of them an additional homestead exemption — pass and go into effect, the county could eventually lose as much as $19 million in revenue. Homeowners in Florida are already eligible for two homestead exemptions: on the first $25,000 of home value and a second on home value between $50,000 and $75,000. The proposed third exemption offers another $25,000 break, on home value between $100,000 and $125,000.

Additionally, a non-homestead cap extension would make permanent the cap of 10% on annual non-homestead parcel assessment increases.

Jonathan Lewis

“There were some people that started thinking … somehow our budget’s so radically broken that somebody’s done something wrong,” County Administrator Jonathan Lewis said, “which is not really true.”

Without the possible impact from the two referendums, the shortfall reduces to $6.5 million by 2020; $0 by 2022.

Although all of these are projections and subject to change, county staff is confident that their projection models are among the most sophisticated in the state.

“We’re just talking through it and we say, ‘What does it look like if that’s not in there?’ Because that’s really a reflection of where we’re going to be in 2019,” Lewis said. “This paints a really different picture.”

Previously, the County Commission was gearing up to make about $11 million in recurring cuts starting in fiscal year 2019. 

“[The departments] started with a much bigger number — what would be a catastrophic number,” Lewis said. “This is pretty close to what would be a 5% cut [for each department].”

Notable cuts from the Jan. 31 workshop include a reduction in SCAT service on Saturdays and the elimination of extended lifeguard hours at county beaches in the summer. 

Commissioners only rejected two staff proposed cuts: closing libraries on Mondays and increasing the fees associated with lighting recreational fields. That’s about $240,000 in vetoed cuts.

While some of the cuts are effective immediately, the savings will be realized in the next fiscal year, beginning Oct. 1, 2019. 

Depending on if both or one referendum passes, more cuts could be on the horizon for future fiscal years.

I’m Cassidy. I cover news in Sarasota County, Siesta Key and the schools, plus community events if they involve dogs. I’m a Florida native, and University of North Florida graduate with degrees in journalism and graphic design. Reach me at 941-366-3468 ext. 304.

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