The Lake County Board of County Commissioners met in special session on Tuesday, September 7, 1993, at 5:05 p.m., in the Auditorium of the Tavares Middle School, Tavares, Florida. Commissioners present at the meeting were: G. Richard Swartz, Jr., Chairman; Catherine Hanson, Vice Chairman; Rhonda H. Gerber; Don Bailey; and Welton G. Cadwell. Others present were: Annette Star Lustgarten, County Attorney; Peter F. Wahl, County Manager; Eleanor Anderson, Budget Director; and Sandra Carter, Deputy Clerk.
The Chairman opened the meeting stating that it was the first of two public hearings that would be held regarding the County's budget. He stated that the purpose of the meeting was to amend and adopt the tentative budget, recompute the proposed millage rate, and publicly announce the percent by which the recomputed proposed millage rate exceeds the rolled-back rate.
Mr. Pete Wahl, County Manager, stated that, as a result of the multiple workshops that the Board has had, including the last workshop that was held on September 2, 1993, there have been approximately $691,386.00 in additional reductions to the tentative General Fund balance of $43,843,137.00. He stated that that dollar reduction has a value of .160 mills and that the tentative millage rate, as advertised, is 5.364 mills. He stated that a comparison of the adjustment to the current millage rate and the rolled-back millage rate would reflect that the proposed millage rate, less the reductions (.160 mills), would yield an adopted millage rate of 5.204 mills, which he noted represents a 6.9% increase over the current millage rate and a 9.6% increase over the rolled-back millage rate.
Mr. Wahl stated that the Board also approved to provide the Sheriff with ten additional deputies, five to become effective October 1, 1993 and five more at mid-year.
Commr. Swartz informed those present that the Board had conceptually approved returning the operation and control of the Jail to the Sheriff and that they have asked the Sheriff to, over the course of the next two weeks, work with staff and see what further cuts may be made, with respect to the Jail.
The Chairman opened the public hearing.
Mr. Leonard Phillips, a resident of Mt. Dora, appeared before the Board stating that he buys tax certificates on property where people have not paid their taxes and discussed how he uses them to finance and build homes in the Mt. Plymouth area. He stated that he currently has 36 pieces of such property, which he feels are terribly over assessed. He stated that there is no reason for the constant increases in the assessments.
Mr. Phillips was informed that the Board does not set the assessed value of property, the Property Appraiser does, therefore, if he had any questions about his assessments, he would need to discuss it with the Property Appraiser. He was then informed that, if he still was not satisfied, he could go before the Value Adjustment Board, which would be meeting at the end of this month.
Ms. Fay Buchanan, a resident of Eustis, appeared before the Board stating that she does not mind paying her fair share of taxes, but she resents her money being wasted, due to poor decisions that the Board has made concerning issues such as the incinerator and the new Jail.
Ms. Buchanan questioned whether there was any chance that the millage rate would be lower, to which Commr. Swartz responded, stating that, over the next two weeks, as staff works with the Sheriff, he believes that there will be some additional savings associated with the Jail, which will reduce the millage rate. He noted, however, that the reduction will not be a substantial one.
Ms. Buchanan stated that she did not feel this was a good time to be raising the County's millage rate, with the economy being the way that it is, because she feels that everything is going to suffer from it.
Mr. Carl Lindstrand, a resident of Tavares, appeared before the Board informing them of how much his property taxes have increased over the past 14 years. He stated that the continuous rise in taxes has got to stop. He stated that county government is getting too expensive and it is time to do a little streamlining. He stated how he felt the Board should handle the budget in future years.
Mr. Sal Pignato, a resident of Eustis, appeared before the Board and questioned how they can justify the increases, to which Commr. Swartz responded, stating that the essence of the increase in this year's budget, even though most of the corrective action was taken at mid-year, is a direct result of the increased costs in additional prisoners that are in the County's detention facility. He stated that the County went from approximately 300 inmates in the old facility to about 500 in the new one, which is close to a 60% increase in the inmate population of this County. He stated that, in order to keep the County from having to open another pod, which would require an additional 20 corrections officers and approximately $750,000.00, the judges were requested to work with the Board and try to keep the number of incarcerations down. He noted that the judges indicated they would try to do so.
Mr. Pignato stated that the Board is not doing what the people of the County elected them to do. He suggested that the Board agree to having an efficiency study done, as Commr. Hanson had recommended, noting that he felt it would save the County millions of dollars. He suggested other ways in which he felt the County could save money.
Mr. Hayzell Brown, a resident of Mascotte, appeared before the Board questioning why the zoning classification on a piece of property that his family owns has been changed from Agricultural to Commercial, increasing the assessment from $28,000.00 to $78,000.00, a $50,000.00 increase.
Commr. Swartz informed Mr. Brown that he would need to discuss the matter with the Property Appraiser's Office.
Mr. Eddie Simpson, a resident of Mt. Plymouth, appeared before the Board and questioned, with Lake County having one of the highest unemployment rates in the State of Florida and practically zero growth, where the Board expected to get money in the future. He also questioned why Lake County has more criminals than Orange and Seminole counties, when this county does not have the draw of the tourist attractions that they have.
Commr. Swartz responded to Mr. Simpson's questions stating that the old Jail was limited to 300 inmates, by court order, due to overcrowding, so, for a number of years, the County had an artificial limit that kept the Jail population down to 300 inmates. However, as soon as the new Jail was in place and that artificial limit was removed, those people who were being released due to overcrowding were no longer being released and the judges continued to sentence individuals.
Mr. Bob Newman, a resident of Leesburg, appeared before the Board suggesting that they look into privatization for the Jail and as many other functions that are under the Board's control as possible, noting that he felt there were many ways in which privatization could save the taxpayers money. He suggested that the Board create a volunteer committee, or committees, to look into the matter and strongly suggested that they not hire consultants to do the job.
Commr. Hanson stated that she agreed with Mr. Neuman and that she had suggested the Board do this at a meeting several weeks ago, particularly for the Jail. She stated that the Board may decide not to do it, but, if the County can save $2 million through privatization of the Jail right off the top, then she felt it was something the Board should look at. She agreed with the suggestion that, when and if the Board studies it, they look at privatization for all areas of the government and see how it can be run more efficiently and if privatization can play a part in running it more efficiently.
Commr. Swartz interjected that one of the main reasons he voted to return the Jail to the Sheriff was for security purposes. He stated he was not sure that, even if the County could save money by privatizing the Jail, it would be worth the loss of security that he feels exists by having the Sheriff run the Jail.
Ms. Hildegard Sender, a resident of Fruitland Park, appeared before the Board and questioned how much money the County has allocated for the Citizens' Commission for Children, to which she was informed that it was $50,000.00. However, it was noted that that $50,000.00 pays for insurance, travel, etc., as well as the Coordinator's salary, which is approximately $26,000 to 27,000.00.
Ms. Sender read into the record an article that she had clipped out of a local newspaper stating that hidden in the County's proposed budget was a plan to spend almost $250,000.00 to build a bicycle path from Tavares to Mt. Dora, along Lake Shore Drive.
Commr. Swartz interjected that, if that project is approved, it will be funded out of gas tax monies, therefore, will not result in an increase in property taxes.
Mr. Pearl McCreary, a local resident, appeared before the Board stating that the County keeps raising taxes, yet they recently gave the County Manager a raise and approved for the Sheriff to hire additional deputies. He questioned why the County could not combine some of its departments and why, if the State has certain departments, the County needs to have those same departments. He commented on the commissioners' salaries and questioned why the County has to have a County Manager to run it, noting that he felt it was the Board's job to do run the County.
Mr. Hubert Hartman, a resident of Mt. Dora, appeared before the Board stating that it indicates in the proposed budget that $1.5 million has been set aside for 1994, with respect to the industrial park, and questioned whether that is money that is to be spent in developing the park, to which Commr. Bailey responded, stating that the Industrial Development Authority and the Tourist Development Council are promoting the development of the industrial park, in trying to create some economic opportunities for Lake County, therefore, said monies are to be used to develop the park.
Mr. Wahl, County Manager, interjected that the revenue to support those improvements will come from the sale of property within the park and not from tax dollars.
Mr. Hartman stated that he felt it was a little unreasonable to think that somebody was going to come to Lake County, build a factory, and try to hire people to work in it, when factories are sitting idle all over the country. He reviewed a report which he noted had recently been given to the Board by a consulting firm, in which they address opportunities in Lake County, which he read into the Minutes. He stated that Lake County is not the desired area for industrial development at this time.
Mr. Hartman stated that the report also talked about retired citizens, however, it did not state that over 52,000 retired citizens in Lake County receive Social Security checks every month, which totals to over $30 million a month, or $360 million per year, which he noted is money that goes into the County's economy.
Mr. Hartman referred to the FY 1993-94 Budget Projections Appropriation Summary for All Funds, noting that for Fund 141, County Sales Tax Revenue, it shows a figure of $9.5 million. He stated that, if the economy is up, it would seem that the sales tax revenue would be up, but the County is projecting a 16% decrease in sales tax revenue.
Mr. Hartman questioned why the County has a 4.5% increase in the budget, to which Ms. Eleanor Anderson, Budget Director, responded, stating that, in 1992, the County carried forward monies in excess of $6 million. However, those funds have dropped during the year to $3 million, due to various projects being paid for out of those funds.
Mr. Hartman reviewed a memorandum which he had distributed to the Board at a previous meeting, which states that school taxes have increased 95%; general county taxes have increased 137%; garbage fees have increased 300% and, during the last four years 6,374 households started receiving food stamps, which he noted constitutes an increase of 149%. He stated that these are the types of things that are affecting the County's budget and his taxes. He stated that the Board needs to do some very substantial work to get the tax situation in line, when the County has figures like the ones he alluded to, to deal with. He stated that he feels the taxpayers are entitled to more relief than what they are getting and he feels that it is the responsibility of the Board and its staff to see that they get it.
Commr. Bailey stated that he agreed with Mr. Hartman, in that the Board needs to continue working on the budget, however, he disagreed with Mr. Hartman concerning economic development for Lake County, noting that he feels the County has got to promote good economic development in order to diversify its economy. He stated that he feels the Board has got to recruit industry for the County, because even though half of the County is made up of retirees, the other half is not.
Mr. Michael Carey, a resident of Tavares, appeared before the Board stating that he hoped the Board would embrace a zero base approach to budgeting in the future. He stated that, if every budget increase that was presented to the public was accompanied by very specific criteria or objectives, so that the Board, before they even got into the budget process, would come before the public and say what they were asking for, what they were setting out to achieve, what objectives they were able to meet and what objectives they fell short of but hoped to do better the next year, that he felt they would get a much more responsive approach to the budget and to increasing taxes, if those services are needed for the public.
Mr. Bob Mason, a resident of Eustis, appeared before the Board stating that he was upset with the increased millage rate. He stated that he feels the Board should stop raising taxes now and work with the money that they have. He agreed with Commr. Bailey that the County must encourage industry to come into the County, but he feels that the Board is not using the taxpayers' money efficiently. He suggested that the Board do what he and thousands of other people in the County do and use the money that the County already has better.
There being no further individuals who wished to address the Board, the Chairman closed the public hearing.
Commr. Bailey stated that he feels the County needs to start living within its means, therefore, would not support the increase in the budget.
Commr. Hanson stated that she has consistently voted against raising the millage rate any higher than 5% and that she would vote against raising it any higher than that this date. She stated that the Board approves things all year and then, at the end of the year, they have to go back and cut and she feels that that is a totally irresponsible way to run the government. She stated that she feels the most responsible way to do it is to stay within the set amount that they have each year to spend and budget from there. She stated that she feels the Board is handling the budget in a backward fashion, however, feels that that is typical of the way that government does it.
Commr. Hanson stated that she feels the County needs to do an efficiency study of some sort and look at how the County can run the government a lot more closely to how businesses are run. She stated that she feels the County needs to take the zero base approach to its budget and feels that there are many people in the County who can suggest ways in which to run the County more efficiently. She stated that she hoped this time next year that the Board will not be going through this same process.
Commr. Cadwell stated that, when the budget process was started several months ago, the Board told staff what they wanted them to do and he feels that staff has done what they were told to do. He stated that he voted against giving the Jail back to the Sheriff, but, he was going to support it and hopes that the Sheriff can save the County some money. He stated that he feels 5.204 mills is as low as the County can go, at this time, therefore, would support it.
Commr. Hanson interjected that the County has not even looked at privatization issues and noted that figures she has been given indicate that the County could easily save $2 million. She stated that, if the Board looked into the matter and discarded it, that would be one thing, but the County has not done that.
Commr. Gerber stated that she concurred with Mr. Carey's comment on the zero base budget and that she would like to see the County go to that, however, she did not feel that it would happen this year. She stated that, after going through volumes and volumes of documents, she could not see where the County could cut its budget any further, therefore, would vote for the 5.204 millage rate.
Commr. Swartz stated that the difference between someone's private budget and the County's budget is that they do not have the State telling them what they have to do, constitutionally and statutorily. He stated that the County has to pick up all the indigent health care costs and Medicare and Medicaid costs, without a cap. He stated that counties used to be able to budget a cap and, when that figure was reached, that was the end of it, but that is no longer the case. He stated that every month Medicare and Medicaid figures come in and the Board approves them and then, at the end of the year, they hold their breath wondering how much they are going to amount to.
Commr. Bailey stated that he feels the County gives in too easily to the mandates of the State and that, by doing so, the County has hurt itself economically. He stated that the issue is priorities and he feels that staff, as well as the Board, can continue to work at reducing the budget. He stated that each of the commissioners have programs that they would like to keep, but noted that, if it would help the County to balance the budget, he would be willing to give some of them up. He questioned whether the Board was going to continue to use the excuse that they have to fund all the things that they do.
Commr. Bailey stated that he feels the Board should give direction to staff to go back and find additional cuts, and, if it is not possible, then the Board will just have to eliminate some programs. He stated that, if the Board does not stop now, they are going to continue to use the argument that they cannot cut this or that and there is always going to be something. He stated that there have got to be ways to further cut the budget and the Board is just going to have to do it.
Commr. Hanson stated that her total frustration is over why there is opposition from the Board concerning the creation of an efficiency study committee. She stated that it would not hurt for one to be created. She stated that businesses all over the country, as well as the Lake County School Board, are doing efficiency studies, so why not Lake County.
Commr. Bailey noted that they are also downsizing and streamlining.
Commr. Hanson stated that the key to the issue is how the County can do a better job and questioned the continued opposition to at least looking into having an efficiency study done.
Commr. Swartz stated that the continued opposition is due to the fact that Commr. Hanson has been proposing a study like the Palm Beach study, which he noted has been an absolute disaster, in that they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in consultants' fees and staff's salaries and it has not worked.
Commr. Hanson stated that she does not care how the study is done, she was just asking that one be done.
Commr. Gerber stated that she would not be opposed to doing an efficiency study, however, would not want to add the cost of doing one to this budget.
Commr. Hanson stated that it could be started with a committee and that they could come up with a recommendation.
Further discussion occurred, however, no action was taken regarding the matter at this time.
The Chairman announced that the recomputed proposed millage rate exceeds the rolled-back rate by 9.6%.
On a motion by Commr. Cadwell, seconded by Commr. Gerber and carried, the Board approved the tentative millage rate of 5.204 mills.
Commrs. Hanson and Bailey voted "No".
On a motion by Commr. Cadwell, seconded by Commr. Gerber and carried, the Board approved the proposed tentative budget of $43,386,255.00.
Commrs. Hanson and Bailey voted "No".
On a motion by Commr. Gerber, seconded by Commr. Hanson and carried unanimously, the Board approved the proposed tentative millage rate of .2220, for the Lake County Ambulance District.
It was noted that said millage rate is the same as the current millage rate and exceeds the rolled-back rate by 2%.
On a motion by Commr. Gerber, seconded by Commr. Hanson and carried unanimously, the Board approved the proposed tentative budget of $1,082,700.00, for the Lake County Ambulance District.
On a motion by Commr. Bailey, seconded by Commr. Hanson and carried unanimously, the Board approved the proposed tentative millage rate of 4.0 mills, for the Greater Hills Municipal Services Taxing Unit.
It was noted that said millage rate results in a decrease in the rolled-back rate of .1250%.
On a motion by Commr. Hanson, seconded by Commr. Bailey and carried unanimously, the Board approved the proposed tentative budget of $60,065.00, for the Greater Hills Municipal Services Taxing Unit.
On a motion by Commr. Cadwell, seconded by Commr. Gerber and carried, the Board approved the total overall proposed tentative budget of $131,515,330.00.
Commrs. Hanson and Bailey voted "No".
On a motion by Commr. Hanson, seconded by Commr. Gerber and carried unanimously, the Board approved to continue this public hearing, for final adoption of the budget, until September 21, 1993, at 5:05 p.m., or as soon thereafter as possible, to be held in the Auditorium of the Tavares Middle School, Tavares, Florida.
There being no further business to be brought to the attention of the Board, the meeting was adjourned at 6:45 p.m.
G. RICHARD SWARTZ, JR., CHAIRMAN
JAMES C. WATKINS, CLERK