CCFC - Budget Workshop
Oh joy! It’s that time of the year again when the public gets to take part and/or observe the county preliminary budget process. Next week at 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday the 19th of July and Wednesday at 9:00 a.m., your CCFC will be representing the taxpayers as they try to work out a just budget for the County Commission and Constitutional Officers. The Florida Constitution requires your County Commissioners to approve all Constitutional Officer Budgets. There is a reason for that. There is a built in conflict of interest between the leader of a constitutional office and the financial needs of the people. The founders of Florida understood that issue and made your Commissioners the arbiter of “how much is enough.”
While the final budget requests are not yet available for us to view and review, we do know that the largest component of the budget will be the Sheriff’s. The Sheriff is requesting a budget busting increase on top of the increase granted last year. We can’t see it. I have attached an analysis of problematic areas we are concerned with and will challenge next week. A couple of budget busters the outgoing Sheriff has built-in to his budget is the purchase five new vehicles a year instead of the traditional three and 10% raises for his Lieutenants and 5% raises for his Sergeants. Keep in mind, that the county itself almost always delivers an across the Board raise or bonus on top of this. It’s no wonder that virtually all the highest paying jobs in the county are government. Coupled with an extremely generous package of benefits, have we effectively separated the haves (government workers) from the have not’s (the rest of us)?
The County Tax Digest (all the taxable property in the county) as appraised by the Property Appraiser will show an overall 3-4 percent increase in the taxable value of properties. Some will see a slight decrease, but most of us will see a substantial rise in the value of their properties after many years of flat or decreasing values. That’s good news and bad news. Everyone wants their property to go up in value but don’t want a bigger tax bill as a result. The shell game the County plays is the misleading “I won’t raise your taxes.” Since the value of a home may increase 4% or more, if the Commissioners pass the same millage rate as last year, you’ll pay more and they will tell you they did not raise taxes. That’s not true. The only way a Commissioner can say they did not raise taxes is if they vote for and pass what is described as the Rollback Rate. The rollback rate is designed to bring in the same amount of revenue as the current year and adjusts the millage rate to achieve that.
I have been informed by at least one Commissioner that they want to raise taxes to meet the needs of the Sheriff and Hospital. Yes, our old friends Weems and the Emergency Management Services that they control, are hemorrhaging money and need more money than just the 1% Healthcare Trust Fund is currently providing. Now, there is an effort to take more ad valorem tax money to fund the existing three ambulances (an increased subsidy was provided for exactly that purpose three years ago) or Weems will be forced to borrow even more money from the Trust Fund that ostensibly was to pay for capital improvements and new construction, but is well on the way to being depleted due to ongoing emergency needs.
These two drivers (known to us at this time) are set to enable Commissioners to raise taxes on us all. Keep in mind that Franklin County is one of the top five spending counties per capita in the State. We are not a poor county, we just act like it.
Please join me at next week’s Budget Workshops as we discuss individual budgets. The Tuesday Workshop is to agree on Non-Governmental Entity contributions like the Humane Society, Meals-on-Wheels and many other worthy organizations that get at least some of their support from the County. The main event is Wednesday morning when we hit the bigger budget requests. If you can come for only a few hours, then Wednesday morning is preferable.
Too often, it appears as if the CCFC is anti-government at these workshops. County Commissioners should be the watchdogs, but they don’t see the hundreds of pages of documents in the budget until a few days or even the same day of the workshops. Often, they don’t understand what they see and rely on those asking for funding from them. Every county department and Constitutional Office tends to look out for themselves; it’s the nature of government. Ultimately, you are the watchdogs that either enable or restrain government from taking more than it needs.
Thank you for continuing support as the CCFC attempts to bring greater transparency, fiscal responsibility and accountability on behalf of Franklin County officials and voters. If you haven’t already, please don’t forget to renew your CCFC membership this month. We depend on your support!
Please feel free to download the Analysis Speadsheet for the Workshop Here
Allan J. Feifer
Concerned Citizens of Franklin County, Inc.
P.O. Box 990
Eastpoint, Florida 32328
“The Concerned Citizens of Franklin County, Inc. serves as a citizens’ advocate to ensure that our Franklin County governments are more open, affordable, efficient, and responsive to our citizens. The organization seeks to hold public officials accountable for their actions in the administration of their duties and in their fiduciary responsibilities to the taxpayers.”