Tuesday, May 2, 2017

What's the rush?

Sarasota County is rumored to need money. Which is why, according to the rumor, it is planning to sell public lands near the Celery Fields to industrial users. But maybe the County is in better financial shape than was believed. Maybe . . . it doesn't need to industrialize the Celery Fields. Have a look at this story from the Sarasota News Leader:

Sarasota County revenue accounts up 4.8% at mid-year

If current trends continue, Commissioner Alan Maio points out, the county could end with about $9 million left over

County financial management staff offers these details about the 2017 fiscal year budget at its midpoint. Image courtesy Sarasota County

At the midpoint of the 2017 fiscal year, the total of the funds in Sarasota County’s major revenue accounts are 4.8% above budget projections, and the General Fund has 5.1% more money than predicted, the County Commission learned this week.
“If we continue on this trend, if my math is right, [we are] $9.2 million to the good,” Commissioner Alan Maio summed up the report.
The growth of development in the county was underscored by several statistics in the report the board received during its April 26 regular meeting: The total number of permits is up 6.6% compared to the mid-year mark in the 2016 fiscal year, County Administrator Tom Harmer said, and single-family residential permits are up 21.4%. The latter are almost evenly split between North County (51%) and South County (49%), he added.
Multi-family residential permits are 9.8% above the level at the same time last year, he continued, with a 326-unit spike in March alone.
However, commercial permitting is down by 36.4% year-over-year, he said. Still, the value of the developments represented by those permits is 61.3% higher than those at the same point in the 2016 fiscal year.
Furthermore, Kim Radtke, director of the Office of Financial Management, pointed out that the Miscellaneous and Other Revenuesaccount linked to county utility services has revenue that is 32.6% higher than budget projections had shown for middle of the fiscal year. “This is due to the larger number of service-related items that we have,” she said, such as permits and installations. “These are all reflecting continued higher

Water revenue is up 12.3%, compared to the budget estimate at the start of the fiscal year, she pointed out, while wastewater revenue is 11.7% higher. Those figures are “partially due to the dry conditions that we’ve had lately,” she noted: a reflection of higher water sales.
Other revenue sources also are trending higher, Radtke continued. For example, the total of Florida Power & Light Co. franchise fee collections is 10.1% above the level predicted for this point of the fiscal year. That money comes from a 5.9% fee on the sale of electrical energy in the unincorporated areas of the county; the power company collects the money and remits it to the county. Additionally, the half-cent sales tax the state collects and remits to the county — based on taxable sales within the county — is up 4.2% over the projection at this point of the fiscal year.
Even the county’s voter-approved 1-cent surtax, whose revenue is used to finance infrastructure projects, is 5% higher than expected at mid-year, Radtke said.
The only account in the county’s General Fund that is below its projection at this point in the fiscal year is the one for the 5.42% tax charged on retail sales of communications services, Radtke noted. “This is primarily due to more people going to internet streaming and prepaid cell phones,” she told the board, whereas cable use previously was more dominant.
However, the state has acknowledged an accounting error in its collections of the tax, she said, so staff believes the funds will be aligned with budget projections by the end of the fiscal year.
As for expenditures: So far, she said, 40% of the General Fund revenue allocated for this year has been paid out, though at this point in 2016, the figure was about 46%.

This chart shows the status of expenditures for major funds. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Radtke also showed the board charts comparing the budgets for many of the county’s departments with their expenses at this point in the fiscal year. She did caution that some see more seasonal spending, such as the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department. It has higher costs in the summer, she noted, partly because of the camps it conducts. The figure for that department at mid-year showed it had spent only 35% of its budget for the 2017 fiscal year.
Human Resources had the highest figure on the chart — 44% — followed by Emergency Services and Sarasota County Area Transit, both at 42%.
She explained that Office of Financial Management staff reviews department spending on a monthly basis in an effort to stay apprised of any areas of concern.
At the mid-year mark, Radtke continued, no department has spent more than 50% of its budget. Twelve are more than 10% below that level, she said, “primarily due to lapsed salaries,” with employees who have left not having been replaced yet.
Commissioner Maio asked for clarification about when the board members learn the final figures for each fiscal year — in other words, how much money might be left over that can be used for a future budget.
“There’s usually a lag in the business of budgeting for local governments,” Harmer explained. In May, Karen Rushing, the county clerk of the Circuit Court and county comptroller, plans to present her audit report for the 2016 fiscal year, Harmer added.
Each fiscal year ends on Sept. 30, he pointed out, so Rushing’s staff usually completes its audit by the end of the calendar year or January. This year, however, Rushing’s staff had to wait on some figures from the state, he said.
Because of the way the budgeting and audit processes are handled for local governments, Harmer added, the final figures are “always a year behind.” Therefore, money left over from the 2016 fiscal year can go into the 2018 budget.

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