Pinellas County reduces expenses and pads reserves in proposed FY 2021 budget

Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton, left, and Bill Berger, director of the Office of Management and Budget, present the proposed fiscal year 2021 during a July 21 county commission meeting.

LARGO — Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton presented the county’s proposed fiscal year 2021 budget on July 21. It totals more than $2.5 billion and includes no increases in millage rates.

It adds up to $94.2 million, or 3.7%, more than the current year. It excludes the money the county has received in CARES Act funding, which must be used for expenses related to the novel coronavirus.

Money budgeted for next year’s operating expenses is down $23 million, or 1.1%, from FY 2020. It includes a $138.6 million increase, 26.7%, for reserves. Expenses are projected to increase by $8.5 million, or 0.6%.

The General Fund budget is $64.8 million, an 8.5% increase, with an extra $52.5 million, 49.6%, going into reserves. Expenditures are projected to increase by $12.3 million, or 1.9%.

Burton said staff had worked to a “great extent” to limit expenditures for next year. He said reserves were increased to consider costs over two years due to the uncertainty of the pandemic.

No millage rate increases are proposed; however, rate decreases may be coming for fire districts, which are still working on their budgets. Some districts may go with the roll back rate, Burton said.

If approved, the General Fund millage rate would remain at 5.2755 mills, the same as it has been since FY 2014. The Emergency Medical Services millage rate would stay at 0.9158 mills, as it has been since FY 2014. The millage rate for the health department would be 0.0835 mills, the same as it has been since FY 2018. The Municipal Services Taxing Unit (MSTU) millage would be 2.0857 mills, unchanged since FY 2009.

Burton said staff had taken a “conservation approach for next year, as we try to ride out the uncertainty of the pandemic.”

The budget for departments under the board of county commissioners is $1.6 billion, which is $4.8 million less than FY 2020. It makes up 61% of the total budget. It includes $1.1 billion, which is $46.9 million, or 4.4%, more for operating costs. Government services would receive $632.5 million, which is an increase of 11.1 million, or 1.8%. It also includes $470 million for enterprise services, up $35.8 million, or 8.2%, from the current year.

Departments under the county commission range from the airport to solid waste, animal services to EMS and parks to public works.

Bill Berger, director of the Office of Management and Budget, went over some of the decision packages, which are requests for money beyond proposed budgets.

Decision packages include a request from Administrative Services for a tele handler forklift that costs $124,000. The St. Pete Clearwater International Airport needs an extra $51,000 for an airfield crack-sealing machine, $65,000 for a Groundmaster 400 mower, $35,000 for a redundant access control server and $82,000 for a trash compactor.

The Contractor Licensing Department needs $59,000 to pay for a temporary position. Human Services would like $60,000 for a denture lab and $1.3 million to pay for a behavioral health and opioid intervention program.

Park and Conservation wants to add a GIS analyst position for $93,000, and public works wants $100,000 for data automation for water quality monitoring. Safety and Emergency Services would like $198,000 for managed services.

Constitutional officers and others

Commissioners also approve the budgets for the clerk of the circuit court and comptroller, property appraiser, sheriff, supervisor of election and tax collector. Three of them also have submitted decision packages. The cost is an extra $4 million with $2.9 million of it recurring

The clerk of the court wants $659,000 to hire five full time employees for the Finance Division’s human capital sustainability. The sheriff has requested $748,000 to enhance visitor screening at the jail. The money includes the cost of seven full time employees. The supervisor of elections needs $1.1 million to purchase Express Vote.

That budget for other agencies is $595.6 million, which is a 15.6% increase, or $80.5 million over the current year. It represents 23.3% of the total budget and includes $54.2 million increase in reserves.

Other agencies include Business Technology Services, Risk Management, Human Resources, public defender, state attorney, judiciary, as well as unincorporated area fire districts, libraries and recreation.

The other agency category has $150,000 in recurring costs from the General Fund as a decision package. Business Technology Services also requested $400,000 for an application access portal, $332,000 for legacy application modernization and $1.3 million for network segmentation. The public defender requested $150,000 for juvenile crossover case managers.

Commissioners will discuss the decision packages at the next budget information session is scheduled on July 30. At that time, commissioners are expected to finalize the millage rates to meet the Aug. 4 deadline to notify the property appraiser for development of Truth in Millage notices. The property appraiser is scheduled to mail TRIM notices to property owners on Aug. 24.

The tentative FY 2021 budget should be posted to the county’s website, www.pinellascounty.org, by Sept. 8. The first public budget hearing is set for Thursday, Sept. 10, and the second and final hearing is on Tuesday, Sept. 22.

The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

Staffing levels

Berger said part of the decrease in the proposed FY 2021 budget was possible due to defunding vacant positions. Full time employees in next year’s budget total 5,434.5, which is the same as the staffing level in 1994. The positions that report to the county commission are down by 16.7 to total 2,191.7, the same as staffing levels in 1990.

Constitutional officers have increased positions by 33.5 to total 3,000, court support is up almost one position to total 44, and independent agencies decreased staff by one employee to equal 198.

Priority initiatives

The budget includes a number of priority initiatives, including continuing OSHA training, re-evaluation of employee performance appraisal, development of a succession planning program, and recruitment and retention for the 911 center.

Others include design of a behavioral health system, sheriff’s priority needs, increasing emergency shelter capacity, a proactive sidewalk maintenance plan, emergency services needs, Sand Key easement acquisition, implementing electronic meters for Utilities, renegotiation of Solid Waste’s power purchase agreement, and development of a sustainability and resiliency plan.

Additional items on the priority list include development of a business plan for Downtown Palm Harbor, determination of feasibility for a publicly-owned regional materials (recycling) recovery facility, creation of a mobile home park improvement strategy and development of a countywide housing strategy.

The final items on the list are development of a new county website, creation of a youth sports master plan for unincorporated areas, improving permitting services, development of asset management guidelines, ensuring Americans with Disability Act accessibility requirements and preparation of a multi-year countywide strategic plan.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.