Administrator’s Report – July 16, 2010
I would like to personally thank everyone who attended this year’s Town Hall meetings and, more importantly, participated in the public dialogue on issues of great significance to the future of St. Johns County. Several meetings were held in June throughout the County with hundreds of members of our community in attendance. It is only with such community involvement that the County Commission and I can provide the type of local government residents desire.
As was stated at the meetings, the County’s budget has been reduced by $122 million since 2007, and we anticipate an additional reduction of at least $25 million this year. Furthermore, current projections indicate continuing revenue declines through 2014 with significant new revenue growth not occurring until sometime after 2015. Despite this continuing downward revenue trend, and consistent with the County Commission’s commitment to the community during last year’s budget adoption process, the Commission and I do not anticipate a millage rate increase this year.
However, the County faces an increasing demand for public services and facilities, as well as five critically important financial challenges related to the health, safety, and welfare of our community. They are referred to as the “High Five” because they are the highest ranking capital projects of the County and are for the most part the subject of unfunded mandates from the Federal and State governments. These five capital projects include:
- Replacement of the countywide emergency radio communication system
- Implementation of the Fire Rescue Master Plan
- Construction of essential transportation infrastructure
- Construction of stormwater drainage improvements
- Construction of additional County jail capacity
You can learn about the “High Five” in more detail by viewing the Town Hall presentation. Given the fact the County is mandated to undertake these projects, if additional revenue cannot be identified, funding will need to be diverted from other established County programs and services, thereby diminishing the County’s quality of life.
It was evident from our meetings that residents deeply value the County’s quality of life and, while they understand the need for certain public services and facilities to have been scaled back in recent years, most residents do not appear willing to support further wide-scale reductions in services. Accordingly we discussed factors contributing to the outstanding quality of life we enjoy in St. Johns County, including the fact we are home to the number one school system in the state and were recently named the second healthiest County in the state; St. Johns County also has abundant natural resources, beautiful beaches, award-winning libraries and recreation facilities, uniquely integrated court and social service systems, excellent public facilities, and world class sporting events.
This brings the County to a crossroads where together we must make decisions with long-term, county-wide implications regarding how to balance dramatically decreasing revenues with the community’s desires for maintaining those public services and facilities essential to our quality of life. If the community indicates it is more important to keep fees and taxes as low as possible, we want to be sure everyone understands what that will mean relative to further reductions in programs and services. On the other hand, if there is a willingness in the community to consider new revenue sources to protect our programs and services, then together we can consider those options. These are the crucial questions we must answer together, for the impacts of these decisions will be felt for many years, perhaps even generations.
Additionally, it should be recognized that while the County Commission must adopt a budget that reflects the desires of all its residents, they cannot do so without direct and meaningful community input. The County’s final adopted budget, both this year and in future years, should reflect the desires of the community. The County Commission and I are here to provide whatever type of local government our residents desire. My hope is that the community will continue to engage in a constructive dialogue throughout this year’s budget adoption process and beyond regarding these rather complex and difficult questions. Now is an ideal time to have such a community dialogue; while no tax increase is anticipated this year, the implications of the aforementioned Federal and State mandates coupled with falling revenues on the County’s futurequality of life are becoming increasingly clear.
You may continue to give your feedback by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling (904) 209-1202. Additionally, public comment is welcome at the series of formal public meetings the Commission will have leading up to adoption of the final budget at the end of September. The next Commission meeting on July 20th will include presentation of the Recommended Budget, followed by a Board Workshop on the Recommended Budget on July 27th. Both of these meetings begin at 9:00 am in the County Auditorium. They are also broadcast on the St. Johns County Government Television Channel. Visit the County website at www.sjcfl.us/townhall to get more information.
Once again thank you for your participation and working together with the County Commission and me to help ensure St. Johns County remains a financially stable community with a desirable quality of life.