County budget doesn’t dip into reserves

Proposed $121 million budget is a 4.25 percent increase from 2017-2018 fiscal year

Good news was aplenty Thursday as Putnam County commissioners and staff reviewed the preliminary budget for the 2018-2019 fiscal year. 

Deputy County Administrator Matt Reynolds and Office of Management and Budget Director Stacie Poppell informed the Board of County Commissioners next fiscal year’s preliminary budget was balanced without using general fund reserves.  

“We spent a significant amount of time going through the budget to try to find savings where we could,” Reynolds said. “It was not easy.”

The proposed budget for next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, is $121,794,991, an increase of about $4.9 million (4.25 percent) from the current fiscal year. 

One of the main reasons the budget is higher, Reynolds said, is because the entire fund balance is included in the budget, per state statute. 

Although the proposed budget is higher, the proposed millage rate next fiscal year is 9.6622, a .227 (2.3 percent) decrease from the current year. The projected fire millage rate will remain at 1.1000.

Countywide reserves are projected to be $18.7, while general fund reserves will be $6.3 million, an increase from $4.8 million in current general fund reserves. 

The projected 2018-2019 fiscal year general fund balance is $57.1 million, up from $48.3 million this fiscal year. 

County Administrator Terry Suggs said Reynolds, Poppell, department leaders and constitutional officers worked tirelessly to find ways to “create efficiencies and save dollars” in next year’s budget. 

During budget meetings earlier this year, Suggs said, staff knew “we need to bring back a responsible balanced budget to the commissioners for (fiscal year 2018-2019). Department heads and staff have worked over 200 hours on this budget.”

While there are no staff raises or cost-of-living increases in the budget, there are also no changes to employee health insurance contributions. 

Some of the county’s goals when crafting next year’s budget were to reduce the amount of reserves used to balance the budget, increase the amount of reserves and decrease the millage rate.

The state prohibits local governments from having a millage rate higher than 10 mills. 

To balance the current year’s budget, $1 million of reserves were used. 

Finding money to accomplish those and other goals was difficult, but staff worked hard to find a way to make it happen, Suggs said. 

“It was not that easy to find money for us to be able to reduce that budget,” he said. “We’ve put on a hiring freeze. We’ve put on a spending freeze.”

Commissioners will vote whether to approve the tentative budget during their July 24 board meeting. And from then until the first budget hearing in September, numbers could change and there could be a chance the millage rate could be decreased even more. 

Commissioners gave Poppell and Reynolds a standing ovation, complimenting them on putting together a concise and transparent budget. 

“Any constituent who picks it up will be able to read it,” Commissioner Chip Laibl. “I’d like to compliment both of you. I’m learning things this morning.”

Commissioner Larry Harvey said Poppell and Reynolds have done a great job saving money without putting county residents at a disadvantage. 

“Outstanding job,” he said. “I know you all have stayed up and worked these budgets. And you haven’t skimped on the citizens of Putnam County. I applaud you.”

Palatka Daily News

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