Pinellas County is facing a $12.1 million budget shortfall for fiscal year 2014. To close the gap, county officials will explore multiples options, including using reserve money, reductions in spending and increasing the millage rate.
Tuesday, county commissioners will begin to take the first steps to tackle the 2013-14 budget during its budget work session.
According to county documents, the budget gap could be partially closed by using one-time reserve money from the Service Level Stabilization Account. However, using one-time reserves, according to the county, would only help in the short term.
The stabilization account was created from FY10-FY12 by taking reductions in the budget over and above what was necessary to balance the budget. The county said $28.6M was accumulated in the account.
Should the county use reserves for FY14, the county forecasts the budget gap could balloon from $17.7 million in 2015 to $57.5 million of 2023.
While the county said it would continue to seek reductions in expenditures, county documents say cutting more will have a direct impact in services enjoyed by county residents:
"The efforts to find efficiencies and streamline operations will continue to be pursued. Due to reductions over the last five years, general fund costs have been reduced to the point that any further cuts would directly impact the continuation of programs as well as service levels.
Between FY2007 and FY2011, reductions of over $182 million were made in General Fund agencies, and budgeted positions decreased by 1,618 or 25%. An additional $18.3 million in budget reductions were taken in FY2012."
Closing the budget gap could become more feasible should the county choose to raise the millage rate. The current millage rate if 5.0105 and according to the county, the cap limit for the millage rate is 8.3285.
A millage rate increase appears more likely than an increase in user fees or other revenue generators.
According to the county budget report, "the county does not have a wide range of other revenue options. User fees can be increased but need to be considered in the context of the local marketplace and the effect on economic recovery."
Property Values to Increase?
It was not all bad news in the 2013-14 county budget forecast — property values are expected to increase in 2014.
For FY2014, the property tax base is expected to show positive growth for the first time in five years, according to county budget forecasts.
"Since World War II, the average annual increase in taxable value is about 5%. Since 2009, the County-wide taxable value has decreased 8.4%, 11.4%, 9.7%, and 4.5% with another 1.8% decrease in FY2013."
The county projects a property value increase in 2014 of 2.5 percent. However, Pinellas Property Appraiser Pam Dubov told the Tampa Bay Times she expects a 3 percent rise.
"It's very, very early in the process," Dubov told the Times, "but sales prices are definitely up for most kinds of property and in most geographic areas of the county."
If You Go
The Pinellas County Commission budget work session begins at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in the BCC Assembly Room, 315 Court St., 5th Floor, Clearwater. The meeting will also be televised live on Pinellas County Connection Television.
We want to hear from you, St. Petersburg: What should be done to close the budget gap? Post a comment below and join the conversation.