Administrator’s Report – August 5, 2011
2012 Budget Update
This past Tuesday the Board of County Commissioners approved the tentative millage rates for the Fiscal Year 2012 County Budget. The aggregate tentative millage rate is 7.4096, which includes the recommended .75 increase. Property owners will be receiving TRIM (Truth in Millage) notices in the mail later this month, which will detail how the tentative millage rate will impact individual properties. In some cases, although not all, the total property tax bill may actually decrease due to declining values.
We have heard repeatedly from citizens that the County should live within its means. The Commission and I could not agree more. For the past several years the County has implemented extensive budget reductions in response to declining property values and the current economic downturn. Even with the $12 million the County will collect with the millage increase, the overall budget for 2012 will decrease for the fifth consecutive year to $545 million, down from $582 million in 2011 and a high of $733 million in 2007. At the same time, the County has managed to maintain excellent programs and services and continues to be one of the most desirable places to live in Florida.
Faced with the decision to either raise property taxes or drastically reduce programs and services, the Commission tentatively increased the millage rate to help offset the last five years of property devaluations – not to mention reductions in sales tax, gas tax, fee collections and other revenues. This decision was made by the Commissioners after many public meetings and while considering the hundreds of comments we have received via emails, phone calls, and in person. The millage increase will provide needed funding for three critical areas: fire rescue, emergency communication system, and quality of life services such as libraries, recreation, beaches, road maintenance, law enforcement, and other valued services.
When considering the merits of the millage increase, it is important to note that property tax collections have been reduced to 2006 levels, as well as remember actions already taken by the Commission in recent years, a few of which include:
- Spending cuts by departments under the County Commission to 2005 levels
- Reducing staff by 255 positions
- Increasing outsourcing ($23 million annually)
- No employee raises for four years and unpaid furloughs
- Deferring capital projects and maintenance needs
- Delaying the Fire Rescue Master Plan
- Closing libraries one day a week and reducing hours
- Reducing field lighting and maintenance at parks
- Eliminating county mental health program
- Adding a 4th cent bed tax to raise additional $1.5 million annually from tourists
- Selling County owned surplus property
- Saving $8 million per year addressing OPEB liability
We will continue to work diligently to find additional reductions that can be made while preserving valued services and programs, which may allow us to reduce the millage rate before final adoption in September. The Commission continues to make every effort to be good stewards of your tax dollars, while holding paramount the health, safety, and welfare of our community. We encourage you to remain active in the budget process, including participation at the two public hearings:
- September 6th at 5:30 pm, County Auditorium
- September 20th at 5:30 pm, County Auditorium (TENTATIVE)
Finally, thank you to each citizen who has attended a public meeting, asked questions, sent feedback, expressed your opinions, and have otherwise participated in the budget process.
Board and Committee Vacancies
- Volunteers Sought for LAMP Board – The Board of County Commissioners has numerous boards and committees, made up of volunteers that advise the Commission on specific topics. Vacancies are updated periodically and are posted here on the County website, along with information about how to apply. Currently there are vacancies for the Land Acquisition & Management Program (LAMP). Contact BCC Manager Melissa Lundquist at (904) 209-0563 or email@example.com for more information or to obtain an application.
Art in Public Spaces
- David Ouellette in Rotunda Gallery – Renowned artist David Ouellette is exhibiting a collection of original pieces through October 21st in the Rotunda Gallery located in the St. Johns County Administration Building. Ouellette’s contemporary paintings include enamels and oils on canvas. The County Administration Building is open to the public weekdays from 8:00 am until 5:00 pm and is located at 500 San Sebastian View in St. Augustine. For more information about the art show, visit the St. Johns Cultural Council website at www.stjohnsculture.com.
- Native Plant Classes – Classes on native plants are offered at the Agricultural Center on the third Thursday of each month from 2:00 to 4:00 pm. Classes are organized by Master Gardener Renee Stambaugh. Area landscapers, planners, and the public can all benefit from these classes. Call (904) 209-0430 for more information.
- 4-H Youth Development – A delegation of seven teens and two adults were in Gainesville the week of July 25th to interview for state 4-H awards trips and college scholarships, as well as compete in public speaking, demonstrations, and fashion. Youth also attended a variety of educational workshops focused on healthy lifestyles, environmental education, personal development, and leadership. St. Johns County youth earned top honors at this event. Additionally, five St. Johns County youth qualified and competed at the State 4-H Horse Show in Tampa in early July.
- 4-H Awards Banquet – The annual 4-H Awards Banquet will be held on Thursday, August 11th. This annual event recognizes 4-H members for their project work achievements and leadership over the past year, in addition to recognizing and appreciating our 4-H volunteers for their dedication to positively developing life skills, leadership, and citizenship in our County’s youth.
- Gear-Tech-21 Robotics – As a regional trainer for the Gear-Tech-21 robotics curriculum, 4-H Agent Geralyn Sachs has conducted three state-wide trainings over the past couple months with more training planned for this fall. The Gear-Tech-21 curriculum integrates GPS, GIS, and Robotics and is geared toward middle school youth and can be used with any youth organization setting such as schools, afterschool programs, and community youth programs.
- Agriculture Highlight – A St. Johns County Courtesy Agriculture Agent assisted Sykes and Cooper Farms in recruiting a sponsor in Jacksonville radio station WQIK, which will now assist with marketing the farm’s upcoming fall ag-tourism event.
Cultural Events Division
- Back-2-School Beach Fest – With kids going back to school at the end of August, the Amphitheatre is teaming up with Beach Services for the first Back-2-School Beach Fest Event on Saturday, August 20th. The Back-2-School Beach Fest kicks off from 11:00 am until 3:00 pm on St. Augustine Beach between the Matanzas Avenue and Mary Street beach access ramps, where events will include a beach clean-up, one-mile fun run, and free surf lessons. The festivities continue at 3:00 pm with an Oceans Expo at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre with live music, environmental education booths, local arts and crafts vendors, a bounce house, and interactive kids activities. The all-day free event will conclude in the evening at the Amphitheatre with a series of movie screenings, including short surfing films at 6:30, followed at 7:30 by the feature film “Turtle: The Incredible Journey.” Get more details here.
- St. Augustine Amphitheatre – The Cultural Events Division wrapped up July with two sold out shows at the Amphitheatre: Further on July 30th and Selena Gomez the following night. Now staff is preparing for an equally jam-packed August. The Amphitheatre will host folk artist Alison Krauss with Union Station for a sold-out show on August 19th, followed by Slightly Stoopid on the 21st (tickets still available). Other shows coming this fall include Miranda Cosgrove, Duran Duran, John Fogerty, and more. Visit www.staugamphitheatre for more details or call the box office at (904) 209-0367.
- Ponte Vedra Concert Hall – The Ponte Vedra Concert Hall also has a full schedule for August, beginning with the brand new Cinema Series on the 17th with the showing of the 1967 version of Bonnie and Clyde. Hip-hop and Reggae artist Matisyahu will perform for a sold-out crowd on the 23rd, followed by the screening of Casablanca on the 24th. The cinema series continues with the showing of Manhattan on August 31st. Great events continue in the fall with the film series and concerts by Ralph Stanley, the Gin Blossoms, Night Ranger, and more. Visit www.pvconcerthall.com for more info or call the box office at (904) 209-0367.
- New Director of Economic Development – Consistent with the County Commission’s primary goal of increasing economic development, we are pleased to welcome Melissa Glasgow as the County’s new Director of Economic Development. She will work closely with the Chambers of Commerce, Industrial Development Authority, and other established groups to attract new businesses to St. Johns County, as well as support existing businesses. A native of Florida, Melissa comes to St. Johns County with extensive experience in economic development and business retention, most recently serving as the Director of Economic Development in Flower Mound, Texas, within the Dallas/Fort Worth metropolitan area. If you would like to discuss economic development ideas or suggestions, please contact Melissa at firstname.lastname@example.org or 904) 209-0552.
- Annual Hurricane Exercise – St. Johns County Emergency Management on July 26th held its annual hurricane exercise: Hurricane Julia Part II, The Recovery. This exercise was unlike past exercises because the focus was on recovery after the storm rather than pre-landfall. The Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was filled with over 120 participants from County, City, State, and Federal agencies working together on the recovery of St. Johns County after a major land-falling hurricane. All emergency support functions were tested within the EOC, with private and public partners practicing plans for points of distribution, temporary housing, base camp establishment, and debris clean-up and disposal. Emergency Management thanks all agencies that participated and are prepared to serve the public during a disaster. Find information on how you can prepare for an emergency at www.sjcemergencymanagement.org.
- Division Secures Grant – The St. Johns County Environmental Division received a $10,000 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Coastal Program. The funds will be used to remove a dilapidated structure from a County-owned beachfront lot and restore the lot by planting coastal vegetation. The project will begin in November after the sea turtle nesting season ends.
Housing & Community Services
- Weatherization Funds Available – Weatherization funding is available for low-income families in St. Johns County. This funding can help with expenses relating to the replacement of doors, windows, and insulation, as well as heating and air conditioning. For questions and an application, contact the St. Johns Housing Partnership at (904) 824-0902.
- CWHIP Homes Available – The CWHIP program has new energy efficient homes with down-payment assistance for both low and moderate-income homebuyers. Interested applicants can contact Dana Moore Froberg at (904) 827-6895 or Julie Voorhees at (904) 827-6896 for more information or click here.
- GIS Division Recognized – The St. Johns County GIS Division won the Best Cartographic Design award for the map titled “Welcome to Veterans Park” in the Map Gallery at the 2011 Southeast Regional User Group (SERUG) Conference recently held in Jacksonville. Check out the award-winning Veterans Park map.
- E-Books Now Available at the Library – As technology continues to offer new opportunities, the Library System now offers e-books from OverDrive. To use this new service, visit www.sjcpls.org and click the “Download E-Books” icon on the right side of the page. Information about compatible devices, trouble shooting, and how to checkout and reserve e-books are just a click away.
- Summer Programs – The library has been playing host in a big way this summer. In June alone, over 10,000 people attended adult and children’s programs throughout the library system. This means more than 10,000 people saw great shows, learned how to make cool crafts, watched lots of free movies, and enhanced their lives simply by using the library and its many resources. Find programs and more information at www.sjcpls.org.
- EZGO Golf Carts for Sale – The County has 25 EZGO Golf Carts that have been declared surplus and will be sold to the highest bidder on www.govdeals.com (search 32086). Carts will be sold individually, with five listed at a time. All are 2008 models, well maintained, and fully operational. They are being sold due to the economy and closure of nine holes at the County golf course. For questions contact Lou Nester at email@example.com.
- Land of Flowers Community Grant – The Florida Wildflower Foundation recently awarded $500 grants for 15 planting projects in nine counties through its La Florida “Land of Flowers” Community Grant Program. Grants will be used to acquire native wildflower seeds or plants for the projects, funded through State Wildflower license plate sales and renewals. One of the grants was awarded to St. Johns County Road & Bridge Department for wildflower plantings along County Roads 210 and 13. The planting will take place in November of this year.
- Engineering Division Stormwater Excellence Award – The Florida Stormwater Association (FSA) recently recognized St. Johns County’s Engineering Division with their Excellence Award. This is the highest award given to a single stormwater program each year that has demonstrated consistently superior service and innovation in addressing water quality and flood control problems. The Engineering Division’s “County Wide Stormwater Modeling” project focuses on reducing the risks and costs associated with County’s extensive stormwater management system while providing a high level of service. The County’s proactive approach to stormwater management has and will continue to better identify and reduce flooding, improve water quality, and help provide for sustainable growth.
- Road and Bridge Projects – The Construction Crew will be replacing sidewalks on Estrada Avenue, cleaning and repairing catch basins on W. King Street, installing pipe on County Road 208 and Woodward Road, modifying sidewalk ramps for American with Disability Act (ADA) standards on Durbin Creek Boulevard, laying asphalt patches on N. Bridge Drive and Summerset Drive, and cleaning up County Road 13A at new culvert installations. The Ditch Crew will be performing routine ditch maintenance on Carter Road, Woodward Road, Magnolia Avenue, Pellicer Road, and Raulerson Road. Additionally, the Heavy Equipment Crew is stabilizing the canal bank on Canal Road in Elkton.
Recreation and Parks
- St. Johns Golf Club – The St. Johns Golf Club in Elkton will be hosting a four-person scramble golf tournament on September 3rd at 1:00 pm to support the “Folds of Honor Foundation”. Net proceeds from this event will be donated to the Foundation, which provides post-secondary education scholarships for children and spouses of military service men and women killed or disabled while serving. For further information or to register a team, please contact Wes Tucker at (904) 209-0352. Also upcoming on October 14-16 is the 2011 St. Augustine Amateur golf tournament, which attracts a field comprised of both national and internationally ranked players. The local qualifier for this nationally ranked amateur golf tournament is on October 1st. To register for either the tournament or the qualifier, visit www.staugustineamateur.org. Additionally, the Men’s and Ladies golf associations of St. Johns Golf Club are now taking new members. Please call the pro-shop at (904) 209-0350 to get contact names and further information.
- Code Red Boil Water Notices – The St. Johns County Utility Department is now partnering with the Sheriff’s Office to alert affected customers of Boil Water Notices through the use of the Code Red System, which uses telephone calls, emails, and text messages to notify affected customers. This technology improves efficiencies as the Utility Department will no longer use door tags to alert customers about the need to boil their water. To ensure you receive Boil Water Notices through the Code Red System when it affects your area, sign up at the Code Red website. Additionally, updates of current Boil Water Notices can still be obtained by calling the Boil Water Notice and Emergency Hotline at (904) 209-2731 or visiting www.sjcutility.us.
Again, thank you to all who have participated in the budget process over the past few months. As I have said before, democracy is not always pretty, but it is a worthwhile and beneficial process that helps achieve the best result. The County Commission can provide whatever type of local government our residents want, but we have approximately 190,000 citizens in St. Johns County and, at the end of the day, the Commission must adopt a single budget that reflects the needs and desires of our community as a whole. This is why it is crucial to continue to make your desires known. We appreciate your support and involvement to keep St. Johns County the place we are proud to call home.
Michael D. Wanchick
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