From left, Lee County Commissioners Ed Duffy, Bill Williams and Betty Johnson discuss the county's FY2012-13 budget during Friday's meeting.
LEESBURG — With the closing of Lee County Coroner Ronald Rowe’s budget hearing Friday afternoon, the Lee County Commission’s Budget Committee put the wraps on a $22,120,639 Fiscal Year 2012-13 budget that committee members called the “toughest in the last five years.”
When all is said and done, the committee expects to use some $959,577 in reserve funds to balance a budget that is slightly less than a million dollars ($981,188) more than the FY 2011-12 budget.
“The budget process is one of, if not the, most important jobs performed by the Board of Commissioners in that it sets the spending plan for the upcoming year and also sets the stage for the amount of property tax that will be paid by citizens of the community,” Budget Committee Chairman Bill Williams said. “This process is becoming increasingly difficult given the current economic conditions.
“With that being said, over the last couple of weeks all five commissioners have participated in and worked hard in developing a budget that includes no property tax increase and no employee furloughs. It also includes funding of $164,000 for four new paramedics, $300,000 to be allocated to employees pending the results of a(n ongoing) wage survey and $213,000 for increases in charges implemented by our garbage collection provider (Veolia Environmental Services).”
Committee member and Commission Chairman Ed Duffy said that even in a tight budget, the addition of the paramedics was important to ongoing public safety concerns in the county.
“We felt additional emergency personnel was needed to ensure the continued safety of the citizens of this county,” Duffy said. “And we are very conscious of public safety here.”
Duffy said avoiding a tax increase was paramount during the budget process.
“Before we started meeting with our department heads, we were $1.8 million out of balance,” the commission chairman said. “The Budget Committee made a decision that a tax increase was out of the question during these hard economic times.
“Every department has taken some cuts in their proposed budgets, but we will still have to use reserves to finally balance the 2012-2013 budget. Thank goodness we were able to build a strong reserve fund over the last several years.”
Williams said the county’s reserve fund is quite healthy, despite the lingering recession that hit the region, the state and the nation.
“Through careful planning and controlling expenditures, over the last four years this board has been able to add $4.6 million to the county’s reserves, bringing our total to a very healthy $7.845 million,” Williams said. “I would also like to add that this is the seventh year that we’ve balanced the budget without a property tax increase.”
Despite the tight reins kept on the budget process, which at times left department heads at odds with the Budget Committee, there were departments that received significant increases over the previous year’s budget. Utility Billing received $249,861 more than it received in its FY 2011-12 budget, but Williams noted that an 89-cent monthly increase by Veolia added more than $213,000 to the department’s expected expenditures.
The county library system got $214,722 in additional funding, but most of that money will be used to staff the soon-to-be-completed library branch off U.S. Highway 82.
Several departments took huge budget hits: The sheriff’s department got $204,384 less; Public Works $60,938 less and the county administrator’s office $54,646 less. Williams said the sheriff’s office and Public Works cutbacks were for capital projects (automobiles and equipment, in particular) for which funding is not available.
Still, Duffy lauded Commissioner Betty Johnson for pushing to complete a wage survey that, when completed, will allow the county to bring a sense of equity to the county’s employee payroll. Johnson said taking care of county staff has always been one of her priority concerns.
“One thing this commission would not do is balance the budget on the backs of our employees,” she said.
A copy of the completed proposed budget will be available for review at County Clerk Christi Dockery’s office and at the Walnut Avenue branch of the library during normal business hours. A public hearing on the budget will be held during the commission’s regular meeting at 6 p.m. June 12.