LEESBURG -- There's a reason Lee County citizens have gotten increased services over the last few years without an increase in property taxes.
And officials here say they intend to keep it that way.
"I don't mean for this to sound critical, but I think some of the folks here had gotten to a point where they were looking for things they wanted more so than things they needed," County Commissioner Bill Williams, who chairs the commission's Finance Committee, said Monday. "We've tried to get away from that over the last three years.
"I knew this recession was going to last longer than experts predicted, so one of the things I've preached since I've been a part of this process is fiscal responsibility. And even though sales tax collections have finally started to trend upward, this is no time for us to let up. We've got to keep a close watch on the taxpayers' money."
The commission will start the Fiscal year 2012-13 budget process next month, tentatively starting formal meetings with department heads on May 9. Williams and Lee Finance Director Heather Kittrell have put together a working budget that the Finance Committee -- which also includes Commission Chairman Ed Duffy -- will work from, and it actually comes in some $200,000 less than the current budget.
"I expect this to be a tough budget year," Kittrell said Monday. "While sales tax collections are up slightly in the county, revenues are actually down in some areas. I think it's going to be tougher to cut some of the things department heads are asking for this year."
Taking into account projected revenue for the fiscal year that starts July 1, the managers of Lee County's various departments have asked for $1.68 million more than expected income. With revenues projected at $21,139,452, department heads have budget requests totaling $22,606,347.
"We're going to have to work hard to get our budget in balance, but one of the things I'm proud to say is that there will be no tax increase this year," Williams said. "I don't like to repeat myself, but I think that's phenomenal when you consider our economic situation.
"I'm proud that Lee County has been able to do what we have -- increase services provided and increase public safety budgets -- and remain in pretty good financial shape while other counties around here are really struggling."
Some of the requested increases county officials must deal with are more than $400,000 in new full- and part-time positions; a $111,000 increase in election costs; $147,700 in Fire Department capital; more than $200,000 in sheriff's vehicles and increased fuel costs in the department, and $271,307 in increased library costs, primarily to staff the new branch off U.S. Highway 82.
Williams said the county may have to dip into its reserve funds to balance the FY 2013 budget.
"One of the other beneficial things this commission has done in the last three years is build our reserves," the commissioner said. "We have a reserve balance of $7.8 million now, but we may have to use some of it this year. Of course, that's what that fund is for."