Three Flagler Commissioners Largely Detached to Penalties Of Price range ‘Blown Up on the Final Minute’


You would possibly want medically-assisted math to determine what and the way the Flagler County Fee did right now to get out of the budget-slashing gap it created for itself final week. Particularly as some commissioners themselves didn’t appear to know why they have been assembly once more this morning, and didn’t wish to be there.

They have been assembly once more as a result of at what was presupposed to be a routine, formal listening to final Wednesday to undertake a tax charge and funds the fee and the administration had labored on for the earlier seven months, Commissioner Don O’Brien opted to scramble the method and the county’s long-term objectives by proposing a last-minute tax charge discount with a set of 4 circumstances, every one additional burdening the maths and technique of recalibrating the funds pretty between the county and the 5 constitutional officers it funds–the sheriff, the elections supervisor, the tax collector, the clerk of court docket and the property appraiser. (See: “In Newest Swap, County Will Reduce Tax Price, Fund Sheriff’s Full Request, and Take a $1.9 Million Hit on Price range.”)

O’Brien constructed a stage of unfairness into his proposal: he needed the Sheriff’s Workplace or any public safety-related county operations spared any funds cuts type the trimmed property tax charge, shifting that burden to others. He needed to applicable an additional $700,000 to the sheriff. And he needed to protect all raises. So the proportionate cuts from remaining departments and constitutional officers could be larger, particularly for the elections supervisor and the clerk of court docket, who had no room for cuts. A clerk official mentioned this morning three folks must be fired to make the maths work.

The O’Brien proposal–which Commissioners Greg Hansen and Joe Mullins supported–has not drawn a lot public curiosity as a result of it’s extra of a political stunt than a change that may give property house owners seen tax reduction. A house owner with a $200,000 home and a $50,000 homestead exemption paid $1,223 in county taxes this yr. O’Brien’s proposal cuts that home-owner’s county tax invoice by $15 for the yr, or 4 gallons’ value of gasoline at right now’s costs.

O’Brien and fellow-commissioners like Mullins and Hansen needed to have the ability to say that they lowered the tax charge, regardless that it doesn’t scale back the official tax improve beneath state regulation (a tax improve most homesteaded householders is not going to see).

However for county operations, that just about invisible tax minimize, aggregated over tens of hundreds of properties, provides as much as actual cash paying for actual county companies, and requires the $1.9 million to $2.4 million discount within the funds County Administrator Heidi Petito had ready. So the symbolic transfer was extra for his or her picture than both for taxpayers’ profit or for the well being of county companies: it was extra self-promotion than sound budgeting, particularly contemplating the timing of O’Brien’s stunt.

The county administration spent the final a number of days reconfiguring the funds to provide you with choices reducing it forward of right now’s assembly, for the commissioners’ approval. It had no room to maneuver previous right now. The county should promote its property tax in a newspaper forward of its closing funds listening to. The deadline to satisfy the requirement is on Tuesday.

Astoundingly, Hansen and O’Brien weren’t serious about having a dialogue right now, or listening to the choices the administrator had ready, presumably as a result of they didn’t desire a public airing of the cuts they’re inflicting, with them sitting on the dais.

“I believe we’re accomplished. I’m undecided what we’re doing or what now we have to do right now,” Hansen mentioned firstly of the assembly.

“I’m positive the administrator had a presentation, and if she’s asking for path from us, at the very least we wish to give them that courtesy,” Commissioner Andy Dance mentioned.

“Course of what?” O’Brien mentioned.

“Yeah, properly, you understand, we’re not presupposed to be directing employees,” Joe Mullins, the chairman of the fee for a number of extra weeks, mentioned, erroneously: it’s the fee’s accountability to set tax and funds coverage.

O’Brien was not getting it. “I simply wish to know path of what,” he mentioned. “The query that we’re asking proper now could be, the millage charge and the trim discover. Is that not already a accomplished situation?”

So finance director John Brower gently schooled him. “What you’re requested to do every year is undertake the millage charges and the funds. By altering the millage charges that clearly modifications the funds,” Brower mentioned, additional explaining that the commercial wants to indicate to the general public “what our funds is.” It’s not only a tax charge quantity. That helped make clear issues for the commissioner.

“That’s precisely what that is for,” Petito advised the commissioners as she introduced the totally different “funding hole eventualities.” In the long run, commissioners adopted the choice that can require the county to face a $1.9 million minimize, utilizing $600,000 from its reserves to shut that hole, and making $1.3 million in service reductions. The $600,000 from the reserves is definitely new, surprising cash, because of a glitch on the property appraiser’s workplace that effected the tax payments of recent development. When the property appraiser recalculated new development in the previous few weeks, it yielded an additional $600,000 in income to the county. However a $1.3 million minimize stays.

It would entail cuts on the county library of $92,000 (7 % of the library’s funds), together with safety, $152,000 in cuts on the county’s Well being and Human Companies Division, over half one million {dollars} in capital enhancements, $56,000 in public transportation, and so forth.

Nicole Buckles, the assistant chief operations officer on the clerk of court docket, put the dilemma this fashion: “If I award the COLA [cost of living] improve that was initially indicated by county administration, I will likely be compelled to terminate three workers. If I fully take away the COLA improve from consideration, I don’t solely need to terminate one worker.” The county will keep away from that both if it dips into its reserves or if sure quantities of cash unused within the funds of constitutionals, such because the sheriff, returns to the county funds.

Elections Supervisor Kaiti Lenhart took time from ballot employee coaching to deal with the fee, her query underscoring the extent to which the fee’s derailing of the funds final week affected constitutionals and departments: “I simply want you to provide me quite a few what my funds is,” Lenhart mentioned. She was beginning the yr at a deficit, reducing coaching and different components for workers. “We have to have totally skilled and skilled” workers, she mentioned, and “all of the alternatives I can provide my workers to be the perfect leaders of their jobs and do the perfect that they’ll so far as conducting elections for this county.”

Not one of the cuts necessitated by final week’s change appeared to depart a lot of an impression on O’Brien, the creator of the change. Slightly, he petulantly objected to the usage of the phrase “minimize,” saying it was a discount within the funds from a deliberate improve. He’s proper. However Commissioner Dave Sullivan famous that inflation has neutralized O’Brien’s argument. And O’Brien was neglecting to say his personal circumstances on his Wednesday movement, which exacerbated the administration’s difficulties in rewriting the funds.

“None of that is optimum for anyone,” Commissioner Andy Dance mentioned. “We spent seven months engaged on a funds just for it to be blown up on the final minute. So right here we are attempting to make issues work.” He was significantly struck by the minimize to public transportation. “The folks that depend on transportation, I simply really feel that’s actually robust to proceed to maintain that place open. However that’s a tough one to clarify to the general public.” The cuts entail conserving positions frozen somewhat than firing folks.

“As you progress ahead, what’s it going to appear to be subsequent yr? What’s it going to appear to be the next yr?” Petito cautioned commissioners. “That’s why I believe it’s necessary that now we have a funds technique assembly beginning in November, various income sources, alternative ways and alternatives to turn out to be more practical and environment friendly.” The administrator betrayed notable frustration with the message the fee was sending: that its personal strategic plan–its objectives–“is nugatory, it’s going to sit down on a shelf and acquire mud, it’s not going to do something.” It was a devastating assertion, delivered in Petito’s disarmingly deadpan voice.

“The one factor that involves thoughts right here is everyone’s feeling the ache besides the sheriff,” Hansen mentioned in one of many extra outstanding statements of the morning: Hansen had been among the many three-commissioner majority approving precisely that exemption for the sheriff (which the sheriff had n oit requested for to the extent that the O’Brien-Hansen-Mullins vote enabled). “And I might encourage the sheriff over the following few months to actually take a tough have a look at your funds. And possibly you’ll be able to minimize a Mustang or minimize an unmarked automobile or minimize some issues like that to assist us.” Actually, via but extra sophisticated budgetary maneuverings, the sheriff, the supervisor of elections and the clerk of court docket all could also be contributing some {dollars} to the county’s backside line in budgeted quantities they might not find yourself spending. The sheriff cited about $150,000, presumably extra. Lenhart’s workplace will likely be giving again about $100,000.

The ultimate end result was a haze of recalculations, bottoming out to a $1.3 million minimize to the county’s funds and presumably limiting cuts on the elections supervisor’s workplace and the clerk of court docket’s operations. However a lot of that can turn out to be clearer solely because the funds yr will get beneath means: as with a lot else ensuing from commissioners’ last-minute improvisations, the results have but to be totally vetted.

County Administrator Heidi Petito’s Presentation Monday Morning (See earlier displays right here and right here):

FY23 Price range Workshop 09122022



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