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Pinellas County
Public input needed to shape county’s budget
Article published on Wednesday, April 3, 2013
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Pinellas County is hosting a budget open house and eTownHall Wednesday, April 10, at St. Petersburg College in Seminole.
On Wednesday, April 10, Pinellas County officials are gathering at St. Petersburg College in Seminole to meet with the public about the coming year’s budget.

The 2014 Budget Community Forum begins with an open house in SPC’s digitorium common area from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Citizens are then invited to move inside the digitorium for an eTownHall from 7 to 8 p.m.

County staff is already working on the budget for 2014. County Administrator Bob LaSala has until July to prepare a balanced budget proposal to present to Pinellas County Commissioners. The departments that report to the administrator, as well as the Constitutional Offices and others that are funded by county government are currently in the process of submitting budget requests that the administrator will use to finalize his proposal, according to Budget Director Eric Naughton.

For now, many budget questions are unknown, Naughton said. The expectation is that budgets for most will remain close to the same as the current year, with some adjustments for inflation. Plans call for maintaining current levels of service as much as possible.

Naughton, who has 25 years of government experience as a finance professional, began his job in October 2012, the beginning of the current fiscal year. This is his first year to work on Pinellas County’s budget preparations.

Most of his career has been in areas near his hometown, New York City, and the Long Island Region. He came to the county after serving as budget director for Nassau County New York, which has an operating budget of $2.6 billion.

“The county is in a relatively strong fiscal position and did a great job managing the downturn in the economy,” he said by email. “I admire the importance the county places on citizen input. Many places have public hearings after the budget is proposed, but here input is requested during the beginning of the budget process.”

One of the reasons the county’s reaches out to its citizens is to ensure that taxpayer dollars are used to provide the best service. The county prefers to hear from the public early in the budget process, before the bulk of the work is complete, to be able to better accommodate requests.

Naughton said there are areas where the county’s budget needs exceed projected revenue. Those areas include the general fund, which pays for much of the operational costs, the transportation fund, which keeps roadways in good repair, and Emergency Medical Services, an area county leaders have struggled to pay for due to continued cost increases and revenue shortfalls.

Although the county is not expected to make big cuts in services as in past years, and layoffs are not expected, commissioners still need citizens’ opinions on where best to spend their money. Some budget needs are non-negotiable as they are mandates of county charter and local policy. Others are mandates from the federal and state government.

Naughton said he chose a career in public service because he wanted to “witness how policy decisions were made and receives satisfaction in knowing that the work that he does provides the basis for those decisions.”

He looks forward to taking part in the county’s budget making process. He hopes that his experiences will “assist Pinellas achieve even greater levels of success.”

Naughton will join county commissioners and staff as they greet the public, answer questions and listen to feedback during the April 10 open house. A series of informational booths will be set up throughout the common area where citizens can learn more about county government.

Bay News 9 senior anchor Al Ruechel will moderate this year’s eTownHall event in SPC’s digitorium. County Commissioners and the administrator will take questions from the community as they discuss the budget, strategies for the future and their vision for the community.

Residents unable to attend the live event can view the eTownHall proceedings through a webcast at www.pinellascounty.org or on PCC-TV on Bright House channel 622, Knology channel 18 or Verizon channel 44. Large screen viewing areas will be set up at other SPC campuses.

Questions and comments can be submitted through the online blog at the county’s website, which opens at 9 a.m. Monday, April 8. Residents also can participate during the live event via Twitter and by calling 1-888-409-5380. For more information, visit www.pinellascounty.org/etownhall.

The St. Petersburg College Seminole campus is at 9200 113th St. N. Signs will be posted leading the way to the digitorium.

Naughton said County Commissioners, as the policy-making body, would take all the feedback from the public and county staff and weigh “needs and alignment with their strategic plans.”

A number of work sessions and budget work sessions are scheduled in June and July, and the public is welcome to attend. Commissioners must notify the Property Appraiser of proposed millage rates by Aug. 2. Truth in Millage statements will be mailed to property owners Aug. 19.

The tentative final budget should be posted on the county’s website by Sept. 3. Final decisions about millage rates and budgets must be made before the budget year begins on Oct. 1. The first public hearing is scheduled on Sept. 5. The final hearing, during which millage rates and budgets will be approved, is Sept. 17.

For information about the FY 2014 budget, visit www.pinellascounty.org/budget. Click on the Submit Your Suggestions graphic to offer comments about funding of programs and services. Click on the Get Involved link on the left-side menu for more information about participating in the budget process.
Article published on Wednesday, April 3, 2013
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