5.3 percent in costs was reduced from government spending from last year’s budget. The final budget totaled over $223 million, making this the fifth consecutive year Leon County has reduced its budget.
That amounts to 22 percent in reductions since 2008, a total savings of $61.6 million. Last year’s budget was just over $235 million.
In an effort to reduce the effect on taxpayers, the County Commission maintained a stable budget by rolling back to a mileage rate of 8.3114 with this year’s budget, utilizing $4.96 million in reserves and $3 million in reductions. 5.5 positions were eliminated to keep property taxes the same as last year.
“As we come out of the recession, we had to make some tough decisions that will affect the county,” said Heath Beach, the new manager of budget and finance who has only had six weeks to work on the county’s budget. “The needs and expectations of the citizens throughout the county will continue to be reached.”
Since the U.S. is coping with the longest recession since the Great Depression, countless reductions in property and sales taxes have been implemented, making it a struggle for some local governments to continue to balance budgets. The recession has caused a decline in property values from 2007 2012 by 20 percent.
With a difficult decision to make, the Board faced the task of considering a certain number of budget reductions, in addition to the use of reserves during initial budget workshops. Some of the reductions include the elimination of the summer youth employment program, a reduced code enforcement program and closing of the library on Fridays.
Other reductions include the elimination of the library system’s literacy program, mosquito control and outside agencies such the community health services partnership.
During a public hearing, citizens of Leon County were encouraged to voice their concerns before the finalization of the budget. Several budget workshops were held to educate local residents on governmental spending.
This year about 50 residents attended a citizen engagement series called “Balancing Budgets and Exercising Fiscal Stewardship: Making Hard Choices in Challenging Times.” The budget session gave local residents an opportunity to learn a budget-balance exercise, providing insight on the fiscal opportunities and the current challenges.
Antonio Gordon, a Tallahassee native, was one of the youngest to attend a county budget workshop.
“By cutting certain programs, this is going to hurt the county. A lot of these services provide assistance to the citizens of Leon County and it should be known what is done,” said the 31-year-old Gordon.
A number of positions involving critical areas such as veteran services and parks and recreation were realigned. Blueprint 2000 and other funding sources have led Leon County to an increase in greenways and passive parks during the last five years, including 1,185 acres over the past five years.
Increases in demand for services that support returning veterans have been made as well.
Richard Barber, a military veteran from Boca Raton, Fla., realizes the seriousness of services provided to veterans.
“Veterans should be able to receive full services provided by Leon County. This is our reward for servicing our country and we deserve the best things offered,” Barber said.
The FY2013 updates include: restructuring library administration and collection services and opening the expanded library branches without new staff, privatizing the Pre-trial GPS Monitoring Program, utilizing fund balances to offset budget shortfalls, reducing executive management by 33 percent, and reducing roadside maintenance through the elimination of an operations crew saving.
The County Commission was able to eliminate 75.5 positions since FY2009. An achievement of a 5 percent reduction in the workforce allowed the county not to lay off any workers. Over 500 jobs are predicted to be available.
According to a press release, when being compared to the 66 counties in Florida, Leon County has the seventh lowest net budget per capita and the second lowest number of employees per capita. Leon County maintains the lowest net budget, the lowest net budget per resident, the lowest number of employees, and the lowest number of employers per capita than any other county in Florida.