Breathless in Franklin County
Breathless in Franklin County
Stimulus.Our County waits with undeniable bated breath for their share of the "Stimulus”. For Franklin County, stimulus is the answer to the question of how will the County pay itself in the next budget cycle and receive last year's widely circulated promise of a $2,000 across the board raise. The County has ponied up tens of millions of dollars worth of projects they'd like to see undertaken in the County. Government workers (not just in Franklin County) just don't get it. The harsh reality is that the County Tax Digest is likely to drop between 20-25% (source: BOCC meeting) creating an additional $2 million dollar hole in county spending. Unless by some miracle the County receives a check for general operations from the Feds, the BOCC ultimately will have three choices in front of them:
- Damn any belt tightening and take money from reserves accumulated over the years by overtaxing you. (the same as they did in the current fiscal year)
- Or, skip any cutbacks and raise the millage rate enough to compensate for spending in excess of revenues
- Reduce the budget
The problem with reducing the budget is that it is largely payroll. There's a few more dollars to cut here and there, but a 20% plus cut would mean significant reductions in the head count. You will hear a lot about cutting people and cutting services over the course of the year, and much of what you hear will not be truthful. One well-placed insider told me they'd cut fuel, electricity, trash pickup, road building and any other non-payroll expense, rather than let anyone go. A Constitutional Officer joked that they might need to expand the courthouse annex courtroom so that workers could clock in each morning and have a place to sit out the day! Serious or not, the attitude is there. The service boogeyman is going to be flogged to death this year. The few services this County delivers could be delivered with half as many on the payroll. That's what it really comes down to. If you don't believe it, we had half as many employees as recently as the 90's, and with substantially the same population then, as now. Unquestionably, the largest growth has been with the constitutional officers; but there has been plenty of growth all around.
The problem with taking from Reserves is that it is not fiscally conservative. Reserves are for the unforeseen and the temporary. That we would be in this pickle was absolutely foreseeable and is permanent. Raising the millage rate is going to be popular because it does not hurt those homesteaded as much since the Save Our Homes (SOH) cap is 3% annually and the Property Appraiser has continued to raise everybody's cap by the 3% limit each year anyway. (Not everyone, but that's another story) Non-homesteaded individuals could be hit with a proportionately larger increase than the 20-25% to make up for all the properties limited in their increase by SOH. This would be a disaster from a property value point of view; piling on additional costs for thousands of people at precisely the time they can least afford it. Worse, the school system takes the lion share of your tax dollars and is doing nothing to rein in costs, even though they were exempted from last years state required cuts.
The CCFC will be all over this issue in the coming months, but we need your help and support. We need your help in maintaining and expanding our membership and we need your help in volunteering to do some of the heavy lifting that is required to push forward our various programs.
Major news on the County-wide front.The CCFC's attorney has prepared a position paper that takes us from where we are today to County-wide voting. We will talk in more detail about our actions at our Annual Meeting. A key element though is standing up a Political Action Committee to legally perform the steps required to have a referendum on the issue that effectively bypasses the BOCC. Your Board Members are stretched very thin at the moment and all the leadership positions of the PAC need to be filled by other Franklin County residents. We will be diligently looking for able, motivated individuals to staff those key positions and move the ball forward over the next couple of months. The CCFC will provide the seed money to get the ball rolling. Much more to follow.
BOCC Meetings.It's semi-official. Despite a letter writing campaign, calls and pleas before the Franklin BOCC, there is no real support for the issue of evening BOCC meetings. To all the people that I have talked with on the subject, I'm very sorry to report where we are at. There is nothing legally that forces the BOCC to hold meetings at night, even though many other counties follow that practice. We'll keep asking, but it's another thumb in the eye for the people who work to pay the taxes demanded by our BOCC.
Our School System.Have you heard the news; the school system is somehow short a million and a half dollars this year! Don't worry though, newly elected Superintendant Nina Marks says, "Saving jobs is our first priority," gosh, I though the kids were. Forgive me for being a bit picky, but I'm angry with the apparent priorities of this rich school system that spends over $15,000 (probably closer to $17,000) per student. And, that is the operational spending, not including the capital accounts, i.e. building the new school! Did you hear about the $30,000 a month electric bill??
Wasn't it just last year that the school system had a "sneak referendum" to transfer extra mills from the capital accounts to the operating accounts so they could become one of the best paid, lowest performing school system in Florida? Obviously, whoever runs the budget failed Math. Keep in mind, that last year's rollback of property taxes exempted the school system. One thing for sure, the word "shame" has never been taught in our one school, school system. As in, it's a "shame" that our children are so poorly served by such a "rich" school system. After all, it really is about the kids; isn't it, or is that just more rhetoric designed to deflect criticism of an obviously failed system? Otherwise, who do we blame...the children? I don't think so, and neither do you.
We will commence the CCFC's 2009 renewal campaign in April. However, anyone that wants to can go ahead and pay their 2009 dues now. Just send them in to the address at the bottom of this email. Any dues amount from $25 to $500 or more are gratefully accepted and will be put to your dues to use securing your rights as a property taxpayer. The CCFC is heard far beyond our little county's borders and reflects the tremendous need for representation outside traditional political channels.
Franklin County Property Appraiser.What can we say about our friendly, neighborhood property appraiser? The CCFC is dedicated to bringing fairness and equity to the tax rolls. There must be a single standard for appraising properties that does not take into account whether you were born here or not. Additionally, we feel compelled to remind our Property Appraiser that her job is not to provide to the BOCC a given Property Tax Digest sufficient to fund the County's appetite for revenue, but simply to assess the property of Franklin County in a fair, consistent, legal and equitable manner.
The CCFC has active document requests, research projects and other efforts underway to bring that fairness and equity to Franklin County. No one should be afraid of the Property Appraiser's office. If you have made a request to the Property Appraiser and been rebuffed or believe that you have been singled out for punitive action as a result thereof; please contact me immediately. I promise you that the CCFC will listen to your complaint and help bring you equity. None of us are alone when we stand together. We will be working with any and all BOCC member(s) who seriously wants to bring the County budget down, in line with the availability of funding. The CCFC represents you in the fight for accountability, transparency and fairness in creating the County's budget.
As always, we are looking to add Board Members and Committee Volunteers who are willing to devote at least a few hours each month to the cause. Personally, I think your participation returns an economic reward straight into your pocketbook or wallet. Please consider formalizing your arrangement by volunteering for service with the CCFC!
Relay for Life.One additional item we've been asked to disseminate: This year's Relay for Life will be held at the new Franklin County School, May 15th beginning at 6pm and running thru the night ending at 12 noon May 16th. The reason we relay thru the night is because Cancer Never Sleeps. Please join us in honoring those who have won their battle, remember those who have lost their battle, and Think Local First by keeping donations here to support our own community. Volunteers are needed and if you can help please contact Susan Hoffritz at 323-0560.
Allan J. Feifer