It was just under a year ago when Manatee County commissioners approved the fiscal year 2023 budget, noting that the emphasis was heavily placed on roads and parks.
When Acting Manatee County Administrator Lee Washington presented his recommended $2.1 billion FY 2024 budget to commissioners last week, not much has changed.
Once again, a growing Manatee County, which now has 412,703 residents (per Census Reporter), has made roads and parks the top priorities.
Of the recommended $2.1 billion budget, $492.5 million is targeted for road expansion projects. Another $89.2 million will go toward park facilities.
Washington told commissioners his recommended budget places a high priority on public safety, infrastructure and services for citizens.
Other main priorities in the budget include $190 million to run the Sheriff’s Office and $23.1 million for Public Safety. The county has budgeted $66.1 million in building improvements and has set aside $9 million for salary increases.
While that total budget amount is under the FY 2023 approved budget of $2,358,762,650, Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said it likely will surpass the previous year’s budget amount after the county can accurately determine the amount it will receive from property taxes. The assessment of property values is due by July 1, with an estimated 17.5% increase in home values over last year.
“(The property appraiser’s office) is almost always very conservative in that figure, so when the property appraiser announces the actual figure on July 1, at that point, we will truly know how much money we have for the budget this coming year that will start Oct. 1,” Baugh said. “Is it more money than what was projected before? It generally is, and it could be $4 to $10 million more that we can sit back and come up with some projects that we’d like to do, but were afraid we couldn’t afford in this (recommended) budget.”
After the property appraisal figures are released, Washington will present commissioners with a proposed budget.
Final approval of the budget is scheduled for Sept. 19. Two public hearings will be held in September that will focus on the budget. The new budget takes effect on Oct. 1, which begins the fiscal year.
Commissioners still can vote down or pull items from the proposed budget. Commissioners also can add items that weren’t recommended by the county administrator.
Here is a look at some of the priorities in the budget.
Road projects funded
Besides the major road projects, the county still has to maintain and make its existing roadways safer.
The recommended budget will provide Public Works with $87.9 million in 2024 for continued road maintenance to keep up with the growing usage, including the road resurfacing and sidewalk repair programs in the unincorporated areas of the county.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Manatee County’s population increased by an estimated 7.4% from April 2020 to July 2022.
Additional transportation improvement requests include “Next Signal” guide signs that help motorists know what crossroad is coming up. Other improvements include speed management and multimodal safety measures at intersections and on thoroughfares.
Then, of course, come the major road projects.
“As far as the budget (in East County), we’re in pretty good shape,” Baugh said. “We’ve got Lorraine Road, Upper Manatee Road and Fort Hamer (road improvement projects) all in the budget.”
All of those projects are included in the FY 2024-2028 Capital Improvement Plan, along with extensions for Lena Road and 44th Avenue East and an intersection improvement at Players Drive and Lorraine Road.
Lena Road will be extended south of 44th Avenue to Landfill Road. Lorraine will expand to four lanes from State Road 64 to 59th Avenue East, and Upper Manatee River Road will expand to four lanes north of S.R. 64 to the Fort Hamer Bridge.
Parks improvements coming
While Premier Park doesn’t have a lot of line items on the 2023-24 budget, four major projects are included in the CIP — locker rooms for the sports campus, a pickleball and racket center, a soccer multipurpose building and a 50-meter swimming pool.
“Premier is going to stick by the word ‘premier.’ It’s going to be the best of the best,” Baugh said.
Under the recommended CIP, $10.4 million goes to the pool and $3.2 million to the pickleball and racket center in 2025. The soccer multi-purpose building was previously funded for $2.2 million and plans are underway.
“We’re going in stages (at Premier Park), and right now, we’re in the design stage. It’s about 30-40% at this point,” Baugh said. “When recess is over, there will be a vote as to whether or not to go ahead and finish up the design and start with the pickleball courts first.”
Set to open on the complex in September, the Lakewood Ranch Library will add $437,024 to the budget for operating costs. The $17.7 million it cost to build was already funded, and three custodian positions at a cost of $195,676 were forward funded from the last adopted budget.
As Premier Park continues to introduce new facilities, Lakewood Ranch Park is due for an update.
Manatee County Sports and Leisure Services asked for $85,000 to upgrade the three full-size basketball courts on site.
“(The courts) are seeing signs of aging. They have the old gooseneck style goals, so we would upgrade the goals and address safety concerns with the cracking courts,” Deputy Director Molly White said. “Years ago, we did the tennis courts. The pickleball courts are getting ready to be resurfaced, so this will finish out (the hard surfaces of) that park.”
The outdated gooseneck posts, double rims and plastic fan-shaped backboards will be replaced with full-size, clear, rectangular backboards with breakaway rims.
White also requested $66,768 to add four golf carts to the department’s fleet, one of which would go to Lakewood Ranch Park so attendants can get to and from the athletic fields faster during events.
A shade structure and “destination playground” are included in the recommended CIP. Destination playgrounds are worth traveling for, so they draw more visitors than the average neighborhood playground.
A nearby example is the circus-themed playground at Payne Park in Sarasota.
While commissioners are on recess until the third week in July, the property appraiser’s office will release its “certification of values,” which is the total taxable value of all properties in the county. The budget reflects a preliminary estimate that shows a 17.5% increase in property values. Property taxes account for $394.6 million of revenue in the 2024 recommended budget, a nearly 19% increase from the 2023 adopted budget of $332 million.76 were forward funded from the last adopted budget.
Lesley Dwyer is a staff writer for East County and a graduate of the University of South Florida. After earning a bachelor’s degree in professional and technical writing, she freelanced for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Lesley has lived in the Sarasota area for over 25 years.