County manager proposes a roll back of millage rate

Alachua County Manager Michele Lieberman presented the 2021 budget message to the Board of County Commissioners on July 7th. Her presentation introduction was as follows:

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To the Honorable Alachua County Board of County Commissioners: 

This FY21 Tentative Budget Message has been prepared amid the unprecedented and tragic COVID-19 pandemic. The County is still very much involved in the response to this emergency. We are working hard to continue providing services to our citizens while at the same time keeping our community and staff safe.  We are not letting our guard down as this virus is proving to be persistent and resilient. But life under this new normal goes on and so does our budgeting. 

The presentation of the Tentative Budget and Budget Message for the County Commission’s consideration is one of my most important duties as the County Manager. As mandated by Florida law, I present you with a balanced budget. 

In preparing the Tentative Budget, we are facing some unique challenges. We are projecting tax revenue shortfalls in FY20 in Sales Tax ($1 million), Tourist Development Tax ($1.5 Million), and Gas Tax ($1.3 million).  We anticipate these revenues to return to normal levels in FY21, but not grow as usual.  Despite this and other challenges, I believe the time is not right for either raising the millage rate or keeping it flat and capturing the increase in property values when many of our citizens and businesses face several financial challenges as well.  For that reason, I am presenting the Board with a budget based upon the Roll Back Rate for our ad valorem (property tax) general fund. The Roll Back Rate lowers the General Fund property tax rate to 7.8961.  This will be only the third time in the last 40 years that the millage rate has dipped under 8 mills. In addition, I am recommending the Roll Back Rate for the MSTU Law Enforcement Fund and that there be no increases to the County’s Stormwater and Fire Special Assessments.

With the vision of the Board at the forefront, your staff has spent an enormous amount of time weighing the available funding and the many competing needs for providing services to our community.  I want to thank my department directors, the constitutional officers, and the judiciary for being cognizant of the unique challenges we face and for presenting budgets that reflect the goal of reducing the burden on the County’s taxpayers. 

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The FY21 Tentative Budget is now in your hands. This process will culminate in your adoption of the budget on Sept.  22, 2020. Between now and then we will have multiple budget meetings and listen carefully to your direction. 

The budget proposal in full:

The Commission’s Share of Each Property Tax Dollar

The Commission received 56.95 cents of every property tax dollar in FY20.  Of this amount, 17.18 cents are used for County departmental operations and 1.15 cents fund capital projects.  The remaining 38.62 cents are distributed as follows:  31.19 cents to the Sheriff; 3.82 cents to other Constitutional and Judicial offices; 1.10 cents to cities for community redevelopment; and 2.51 cents are held in reserves. The following chart illustrates how the Commission allocated its property tax dollars. 

Property Values and Millage Rates 

For the sixth year in a row, Alachua County’s property values are rising.  The FY21 Tentative Budget anticipates a property value increase of over 6% in the General Fund and the Municipal Service Taxing Unit – Law Enforcement. The Commission will be asked to set the tentative millage rates at their meeting on July 14, 2020. 

General Fund 

I recommend a reduction in the General Fund millage rate from 8.2729 mills to the rollback rate of 7.8961 mills. The General Fund provides resources for the majority of County departments and Constitutional offices. The FY21 General Fund total from property tax revenue is $121,986,481. The total from all revenue sources is $186,739,286.

Municipal Services Taxing Unit (MSTU), Municipal Services Benefit Units (MSBU) & Gas Tax

All of these funds will pay their appropriate share of the Florida Retirement System (FRS) contributions, health insurance increases, employee compensation increases, and reserves.  The budget totals are inclusive of many revenue sources including Ad Valorem Tax, State Sales Tax, Communications Service Tax, and Public Service Tax. 

MSTU Law Enforcement 

I am recommending reducing the MSTU Law Enforcement Fund to the rollback rate of 3.5678. This is a reduction of 0.1562 mills The FY21 MSTU Law Enforcement total from property tax revenue is $23,034,303.  The total from all revenue sources is $25,740,804.

MSBU Fire Protection 

Fire Protection will continue to be funded through an MSBU assessment fee for FY21 and requires no increase. The FY21 MSBU Fire Protection total budget is $20,952,374. 

MSBU Stormwater 

Stormwater issues will also continue to be funded through an MSBU assessment fee for FY21 and require no increase. The FY21 MSBU Stormwater total budget is $1,872,430. 

MSBU Curbside Collection

Curbside Refuse Collection is assessed and apportioned among benefited parcels per cart size per dwelling.  It isfunded through an MSBU assessment fee for FY21 and future years and will increase, on average, $5.21 per month per cart. The FY21 MSBU Refuse Collection total budget is $8,057,893.This increase is being recommended in the FY21 budget and aligns with the presentation made in March 2020 to the Board. 

Gas Tax Fund

The Gas Tax total budget is $10,920,991. Over the last three decades, and consistent with national trends, the cost of providing transportation system services has outpaced revenues collected from gas taxes. This trend will continue as cars continue to become more fuel-efficient and residents continue to choose alternative modes of transportation. To offset this Gas Tax funding deficiency, General Fund transfers have been used to maintain a steady level of service. The proposed FY 21 General Fund transfer is $3.6 million. The Local Option Fuel Taxes (totaling 11 cents) have been extended for ten years and an interlocal agreement has been entered with the City of Gainesville.  The County’s share of the Gas Tax proceeds from the agreement is 50%. 

County Initiatives AND Imperatives

A Living Wage

The Commission has expressed its policy of ensuring a living wage for all employees, with a goal to reach $15.00 per hour. The recommended budget for FY21 includes an increase in the Local County Minimum Wage from $14.00 to $14.50 an hour. This increase is recommended for all County, Constitutional, and Judicial employees funded by the County. 

In addition to an increase in the minimum wage, I recommend providing our non-bargaining employees an across-the-board Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) increase. This includes an equivalent level of funding for employees of the Constitutional and Judicial Officers as well. I recommend that we set aside a comparable level of funding for bargaining unit employees. 

Alachua County Agricultural & Equestrian Center

It has long been a goal of the Commission to break ground on a new site for the Alachua County Fairgrounds. While there had been several setbacks in the past, during the last 2-years the County has seen tangible progress toward this goal.  Construction has begun on the Canterbury site to develop it into the Alachua County Agricultural & Equestrian Center, including the Cooperative Extension Office and Community Center. The total project costs $19 million, and of this amount, $10.6 million represents the amount of debt. The remainder represents the current General Fund and Tourist Development Tax dollars committed to the project.  

Addressing the County’s Critical Building Needs

Many of the County’s buildings have reached a critical stage that requires immediate action. It is imperative to provide facilities that allow staff an effective place from which to provide services and programs to our citizens and to provide citizens a pleasant customer experience. The cost to repair, maintain and preserve much of the County’s aging vertical infrastructure exceeds the value of the structures themselves.  It is no longer prudent to continue to expend taxpayer dollars for improvements that do not fully resolve the issues. Also, the lack of energy efficiency in aging buildings, and the occupancy of multiple buildings, increases the overall cost of operation. This budget continues to move the County forward in developing a new administration building to consolidate much of the County’s downtown operations in a single location and a location for the Court Services Department as part of the County’s judicial campus. Additionally, this project offers the County with a unique opportunity to design and construct a facility that recognizes the anticipated “new normal” of operations in a post-pandemic world. 

Additional budget impacts and enhancements

All County-Funded Departments and Agencies

  • A modest cost of living increase 

  • A 1% increase in health coverage costs

  • The Florida Retirement System will be adjusted based on the State of Florida’s required contribution

Sheriff’s Dive Team Storage

The Sheriff’s Dive Team has outgrown their dive team equipment storage room at the Sheriff’s headquarters building. This budget includes a 1,200 sq. ft. storage facility to meet this need. 

Alachua County Volunteer Coordinator 

The number of volunteers who offer their valuable time to the service of Alachua County and its citizens continues to grow. As a result, a position dedicated to the onboarding, tracking and development of the County’s volunteer corps will be invaluable. This position is being developed with the ITS Administrative Assistant vacancy (currently used to fund the Charter Review Commission (CRC) liaison position).  The Human Resources Office will absorb office support needs.  

Emergency Operations Center (EOC) Command Room

Our current EOC has, over time, become a space that is limited in capacity for its current use.  This initiative will convert the rear storage room in the EOC to occupiable space to be utilized as a Command Room for executive team meetings when the EOC is activated. 

Eliminate 1.0 FTE – Marketing & Events Coordinator

When this position became vacant, it was not filled. With the transfer to the new Agriculture & Equestrian Center, the County was able to contract with an organization to manage the new fairgrounds, so there is no need to maintain this position on the roster. This represents a cost savings.

CyberSecurity Audit Implementation

CyberSecurity is of critical importance to the protection of the County’s infrastructure, assets and those of its citizens. This request includes four priority items resulting from the CyberSecurity Audit conducted in the IT Department.  The request consists of a Multifactor Authentication, Patch Management, a DLP module for Web Filter, and an Intrusion Detection System (IDS) that provides enhanced monitoring capabilities and notifications of malicious activity through 24/7 remote monitoring. 

Senior CADD Designer

This item converts a vacant Civil Engineer I FTE to a Senior CADD Designer FTE.  This would be a reclassification of an existing FTE from a non-bargaining salary position to a non-bargaining hourly position that currently does not exist in our system.  As currently staffed, the majority of the department’s roadway design work is outsourced to consultants.  Since February 2018, Public Works has spent approximately $3.5 million in engineering services fees to consultants to maintain project delivery schedules.  A senior level CADD designer would allow Public Works to perform more of this work in-house and results in cost savings.  

Additional 0.2 FTE Senior Environmental Specialist

In anticipation of the retirement of several long-term employees, a succession plan is proposed to be implemented effective FY21. This position is an essential piece of this plan. The proposed succession plan will not require an increase in the General Fund personnel budget. 

Camp McConnell Renovations 

The FY 21 Tentative Budget includes Wild Spaces Public Places funding for the camp’s renovations as approved for by the Board on June 23, 2020.

2.0 FTE – Parks Maintenance Workers – Poe Springs

Parks and Open Space requests eliminating four temporary, unclassified positions and adding 2.0 Full-Time Equivalent positions (primarily assigned to Poe Springs) instead.  This action will allow Parks to realize additional efficiencies as well as improved level of service standards. It will enable the development of long-term relationships with our leagues and citizens.

Temporary Agricultural Extension/UF IFAS Office Relocation

The Extension Office needs temporary space until the building at the Canterbury location is completed.  While this move is occurring during the current fiscal year, the expense will continue during the FY21 construction of the new facility.

The BOCC will discuss the budget proposal at the July 14th meeting which starts at 11:30 a.m.

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