Putnam County makes minor budget adjustments

The first budget hearing on Monday for the Putnam County Board of Commissioners went much smoother and quicker than the meetings and workshops that preceded it.

Commissioners unanimously approved the first readings for the tentative budget, millage rates and budget amendments for the 2016-2017 fiscal year. 

County Administrator Rick Leary presented commissioners with a tentative budget of $111,199,956, about $4 million more than the tentative budget introduced in a July commission meeting. 

“That is a slight adjustment upward,” Leary said. “We advised you in July those numbers … were tentative and subject to adjustment.”

The biggest contributing factors for the proposed budget increase are the need to pay for fire equipment that has already been ordered but has yet to be delivered and numerous road projects that will come from the 1-cent infrastructure surtax Better Place Plan, Leary said. 

Although the budget amount changed, the millage rates remained the same. The proposed general fund millage rate is the rollback rate of 9.0914 mills, while the fire tax millage rate will remain the same as the current fiscal year, 1.1000 mills. 

A concern Leary expressed during Monday’s budget hearing – and at budget hearings in years past – was using general fund reserves to balance the budget. 

For the upcoming fiscal year, commissioners signed off on using $4.6 million from reserves. But Leary said using reserves was required to balance the numbers. 

“That is an amount that exceeds the comfort of the budget officer and the county administrator, although it is a necessary amount to appropriate in order to balance the general fund budget,” Leary said.

Earlier in the summer, Leary and budget officer and Deputy County Administrator Stacie Poppell told commissioners it would be dangerous to continue to rely on general reserve funds to balance the budget. They also said the Insurance Reserve Fund was in the red because the county used some of those funds each year to subsidized insurance costs for county employees. 

Commissioners approved a budget amendment to transfer $18,018,122 between county funds to bring funds currently in the negative – including the Insurance Reserve, Communication and Fleet funds, among other items – in the black, or at least to zero. 

Commissioner Larry Harvey questioned why an amendment for so much money was done now and not broken up into small amounts in previous years. 

“I’m a little confused,” he said. “This is my third (year) of budgets. Looking at it, I don’t even remember doing budget amendments to the tune of $18 million. And that concerns.”

Poppell, for whom this is her first budget season while working for the county, said she couldn’t say why budget amendments weren’t done in the past.

But this is something that needs to be done to make sure all funds are balanced, she said. 

“There are some funds … that have negatives,” Poppell said. “For all of the funds to be in balance and not have been overspent, the budgeting should have been done. It wasn’t. And the only way to repair the budget was to do a budget amendment so that the money is there.”

Commissioners and Leary praised Poppell for coming up with a balanced budget – despite insurance rate hikes, funds in the negative and numerous tough decisions – and modernizing the way they approach the budget. 

“I personally have seen your personal vehicle here on Saturdays and Sundays and late into the evening,” Commission Chairman Chip Laibl said. “I know you’ve put in a lot of overtime to modernize our new budget approach.”

The second and final budget hearing will be 5:05 p.m. Sept. 27.

Palatka Daily News

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Palatka, FL 32177
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