Alachua County Manager Michele Lieberman pointed to inflation, gas prices and workforce shifts as challenges for the next year and said the county should exercise fiscal prudence and caution for the budget.
Lieberman presented her tentative budget at a special meeting on Tuesday morning that included a lowered millage rate, an increase in general fund contributions to roads and raising county wages.
Over the next few months, the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) will meet to discuss and amend the budget. The commission will set proposed millage rates on July 12, though adjustments can be made later. The final budget meeting will be on September 27.
Before the budget meeting started, Raemi Eagle-Glenn joined the BOCC after her swearing-in ceremony at 9 a.m., just in time for the day’s meetings.
Eagle-Glenn said the last time she attended a meeting in the Jack Durrance Conference Room the commission asked her to leave for not wearing a mask. In her opening statement, Eagle-Glenn said she found the current situation ironic and hoped to find common ground.
“Even if there are some people who don’t agree with me, I welcome you and encourage you to pay attention over the next several months because you may find that there are some things that we can all agree upon,” Eagle-Glenn said.
She said perseverance brought her to the position along with the courage of her convictions, a trait Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state needs more of.
“But it also has been the fight that has gotten me here,” Eagle-Glenn said. “And it’s that fight that I think in 2022 is creating miracles. I think it’s revolutionary that I’m sitting here today.”
After a reception, the BOCC entered the special meeting covering its budget for the next fiscal year. County staff played a video that covered each department and highlighted accomplishments from the past year and goals for the next.
Afterward, Lieberman presented her philosophy for the budget, saying the county should keep current services in place but not try to expand over the next year.
“With an uncertain economic forecast, it is my recommendation that this fiscal year is not the time to increase government programs and services but rather to focus on maintaining the high quality and level of service that we currently provide, to ensure their sustainability even should future years bring a slight decline in revenue,” Lieberman said.
She highlighted a 1% increase in the Consumer Price Index in May alone as another caution.
To address employee retention, Lieberman said the county must provide competitive pay with remote options and a welcoming environment. Her proposed budget includes increasing the base pay to $16 per hour for all constitutional and judicial employees.
The county also plans to lower the property tax millage rate from 7.8662 to 7.7662. Lieberman noted that this will be the sixth year in a row that the county has lowered the general government millage rate.
Lieberman’s tentative budget includes no increases to the law enforcement millage, solid waste assessment or stormwater fee.
The fire assessment would increase though—from $90.69 to $94.50 for tier 1 and from $8.31 to $8.55 for tier 2. Lieberman said this increase will keep fire rescue on track with its five-year plan and avoid a large jump down the line.
The county will also add $4 million to its general fund toward roads and its pavement management system. The county will now fund roads at $7.6 from its general fund, however the BOCC hopes to acquire a $15 million annual budget for roads by the end of the year.