A SPECIAL MEETING OF THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS
MAy 12, 2009
The Lake County Board of County Commissioners met in a special budget workshop session on Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 9:00 a.m., in Training Room 233, Lake County Administration Building, Tavares, Florida. Commissioners present at the meeting were: Welton G. Cadwell, Chairman; Jennifer Hill, Vice Chairman; Jimmy Conner; Elaine Renick; and Linda Stewart. Others present were: Sanford A. “Sandy” Minkoff, County Attorney; Cindy Hall, County Manager; Doug Krueger, Budget Director; and Susan Boyajan, Deputy Clerk.
Ms. Cindy Hall, County Manager, commented that the budget for next year was a very different type of budget than any of them have probably ever tackled. She reported that the legislature the last couple of years has redefined what they want local government to look like, with restrictions in growth and property assessments and expansion of exemptions available for homeowners, and the property assessments are not likely to grow as they had in the past, resulting in permanent reductions in what County government could provide. She stated that part of what they were doing for next year was looking at reductions that would be permanent, but because the economic changes resulting in a greatly reduced tax base has compounded the struggle of putting the programs together for next year, they would be proposing some temporary reductions as well. She explained that the goals of this workshop were to give the Board a sound understanding of what their revenue situation was for next year and to find out if there were areas or programs that were currently budgeted that the Board deemed important and did not want reduced. She assured the Board that they would be making recommendations to the Board during the budget process.
budget status update
Mr. Doug Krueger, Budget Director, noted that they would not be getting tax information from the Property Appraiser’s Office for another month and a half, so the numbers presented in the Chart of Taxable Values was still speculation and projection at this point. He pointed out that over the last couple of years, the County’s tax base has declined about 13 percent, with a 6.9 percent decrease over last year due to legislative changes such as Amendment 1 and reassessment of existing properties due to the economy. He specified that over the course of this time period, the tax rate dropped from 5.7 to the current 4.651 and stated that not adopting a rollback rate for the declining tax base would result in a tax decrease. He commented that they were trying to bring the cost of government services and programs in line with the revenues that they would be bringing in on an annual basis, taking into consideration the Board’s input. He recapped that during the presentation of the Annual Financial Report, the outside auditor mentioned that the fund balance number was about 25 percent, which was in an acceptable range. He also noted on Page 2 the unrestricted reserve as a percent of the actual expenditures, showing that that number was dropping to ten percent, and he explained that the reserves were part of, but not the total of the fund balance. He commented that that figure was a concern because of the way the County would appear to financial evaluation firms, resulting in lower ratings than they have gotten in the past. However, this was a common problem for most local governments in this economy. He reported that the legislature was taking steps to limit the amount that their tax base could increase.
Mr. Krueger stated that they were recommending a change in the current policy regarding Public Lands Policy LCC 64 in which the Board set aside about 3 cents of the General Fund property tax to be allocated towards management of the public lands that were purchased with the Public Lands initiative that was passed by the voters. He related that if they continued to allocate and earmark three cents of the tax base for this policy as present policy dictates, that revenue would result in a need to carry forward to 2009/10 about $1 million worth of revenue to be allocated to that program in the future.
Commr. Cadwell noted that that program came out of the general fund, and he opined that it needed to be weighed against everything else. There was consensus to look into that.
Commr. Hill pointed out that when they first started that program, they did not know exactly what they would need to manage those public lands, so they just came up with a percentage for managing them that would not be taken out of the bond. She also brought up the fact that there was a green utility tax that the County could possibly implement for the management of the land acquisition, but the caveat was that the County had to have a population of 500,000. She commented that even though Lake County did not meet that requirement, it could enter into an interlocal agreement with another county to collect this green tax.
Ms. Hall stated that she could research that further and see if it was something they could bring back to the Board.
board input regarding program priorities
Mr. Krueger referred to a list of programs that the County was currently funding to review and get direction regarding the Board’s opinion about those programs which would assist them in making recommendations.
Ms. Hall added that Economic Growth and Redevelopment was left off that list and made a recommendation that memberships the County pays which were listed on page 4 be reduced by ten percent.
Commr. Cadwell stated that some of the memberships were by rule, such as the East Central Florida Planning Council, and they would not get to decide what those dues were. He hoped they would encourage the groups they dealt with to reduce their dues, but he did not think they could just randomly not pay them. He also emphasized that the prescription drug program through NACO (National Association of Counties) saved Lake County citizens over $2 million.
Commr. Conner commented that they needed to streamline, but still provide a reasonable level of service in a more cost-effective manner.
Commr. Hill commented that the costs to run the committees listed on page 7 were not that much, but it used a lot of staff time, which took away from what staff could accomplish.
Commr. Cadwell pointed out that the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee was by Statute, so they had to have that, but he did not think they would be meeting very often. He suggested that the Tourist Development Council or Economic Development could possibly hear the issues of the Arts and Cultural Alliance committee.
Mr. Greg Mihalic, Director of Tourism and Business Relations, stated that the arts was one of the components of their economic development and tourism, and they would continue to support it.
There was discussion regarding the viability, cost, and size of the Children’s Services Council, and it would be looked at to see if the costs could be streamlined for that committee.
Commr. Renick stated that the Comprehensive Health Care Committee was formed mainly to allow different agencies to talk together freely without violating Sunshine Law and still met quarterly. She commented that it has reduced staff hours and costs significantly, and they could look into having the Children’s Services Council operate similar to how the Comprehensive Health Care Committee currently does.
Commr. Hill inquired whether the Historical Museum was mandated by contract.
Mr. Sandy Minkoff, County Attorney, explained that they had a contract with the Historical group which provides for operation of the museum, and they each appoint certain members to the committee.
Commr. Conner, who was liaison to the Historical Society, stated that they did not even consider themselves to be part of the museum now. He mentioned that last year the Historical Society for the first year did not receive funding, and he wanted to address that. He commented that the museum has an employee and a half. He thought that there could be some savings if the Historical Society and Museum could be combined.
Commr. Cadwell commented that four of their boards received stipends, which were the LPA (Local Planning Agency), Board of Examiners, Board of Adjustment, and Zoning at a cost of about $1200 per month average.
Commr. Renick brought up that the Zoning Board used 422 hours of staff time monthly.
Commr. Hill responded that a lot of that was for research time.
recess and reassembly
At 9:50 a.m., the Chairman announced that there would be a recess.
property tax projections
Ms. Hall explained that Page 8 and 9 showed all the different funds that were through an ad valorem millage. She recapped that she came to the Board in February with a recommendation to keep the millages constant, and the Board accepted that recommendation. She noted that would then bring in about $6.4 million less, and the rollback rate of 5.1 would bring in about $2 million extra money. She requested reconsideration of the millage for something between the current millage and the rollback. She emphasized that they would be able to balance next year’s budget even with the 4.6511 millage, but she recommended that any additional millage money that they would bring in be put towards reserves and the fund balance, which was an area that was somewhat of a concern to her, even though she thought that financially they were very sound. She was also concerned that as the legislature continues to restrict the funding that is available through property taxes, they have no room for flexibility in the future.
The Board denied the request to raise the millage from the current 4.6511 millage.
environmental utilities fund 4200
Ms. Hall commented that page 10 regarding the Environmental Utilities Fund 4200 was critical, and related that the current assessment was $184 per year. She stated that the projections for the 2009/10 budget that were turned in by the Environmental Utilities Department showed that even though the expenditures were about $3 million less than expected, they were still about $1.2 million out of balance. She recommended that they increase the assessment rate to $202 per year for the households that receive solid waste collection, which would balance their budget for next year. Otherwise, reductions would have to be made to programs such as Hazardous Waste and the drop off centers.
Mr. Daryl Smith, Environmental Utilities Director, stated that if they were going to achieve balancing the $1.18 shortfall, they would probably have to lose a program. He commented that they could trim some, but they only have two collections per week for their drop-off sites, and they could eliminate one of those. He also noted that there was no requirement to have the household hazardous waste program, because the materials that they receive from the residential customers are exempt, but he opined that it was a critical program for the protection of the environment.
Commr. Cadwell commented that without the drop-off centers and hazardous waste programs, there would be a lot more of a litter problem and a hazardous waste problem. He commented that $1.50 more per month was worth all the services that the County provided.
Commr. Renick brought up the possibility of putting the hauler’s contract out for bid.
Mr. Smith emphasized that they just entered into a new contract that would start on October 1, 2009, and he pointed out that even though there was a refuse rate index giving the haulers some increases if necessary, their costs actually went down 5.5 percent and could go down further as a result of the changes in the indexes that they look at. He also thought that they were getting some benefit from the change in the economy, reduced gas prices, and those kinds of things that would be reflected in the contract that would start on October 1, 2009.
Mr. Minkoff explained that he did not think the contract had a termination clause, but he did not think there would be anything wrong with asking the haulers if there were ways they could reduce prices or reduce costs.
Ms. Hall also mentioned that they were refinancing the bond reserves with Covanta, and there could be some additional cash flow that is made available if that happens. She requested authorization to start with the $202 figure, and if they could talk to the haulers and get them to make some reductions and continue the negotiation for bond reserves, she would take those into consideration.
Commr. Cadwell pointed out that they did not have a consensus on that, but directed Ms. Hall to keep working on that issue.
Commr. Conner inquired whether more paid tonnage would solve the problem of that deficit, and he thought the County should be trying more aggressively to get the haulers to bring them garbage from out of Lake County.
Mr. Smith explained that if they had more commercial tonnage coming in, which was the paid kind, it would help them to improve that. He did not think, however, that they had competitive charges at this point in time that would attract more tonnage.
Ms. Hall opined that they could balance the Fire Rescue budget next year with the current assessment and the current millage. She mentioned that the department has been offered a SAFER Grant of twelve firefighters, which would be going back before the Board for approval in the future. Their proposal would be that they would start October 1, and for the first year they would be used also for overtime relief and be circulators, even though the overtime currently has gotten to be low. She also noted that they would be able to staff the Paisley station with some of those firefighters when it came on line in a year. She reported that either with or without the grant, they would be looking at an increase the following year, but she noted that the budget will be balanced next year with no increase in raises or capital.
free rides for students on lakexpress during summer
On a motion by Commr. Hill, seconded by Commr. Stewart and carried unanimously by a vote of 5-0, the Board voted to add a discussion regarding LakeXpress summer bus service to the agenda.
Commr. Stewart informed the Board that LakeXpress would like to offer Lake County students free rides on the buses during the summer months, which would help the students get around and would help build the ridership.
Commr. Hill added that she asked Mr. Ken Harley, Public Transportation Director, to see if he could partner with the YMCA and to look at the circulator that went to the west side of Leesburg , which included the Boys and Girls Club and the new city gymnasium. She reported that he did partner with the YMCA in Eustis, and a circulator stopped at that intersection. She stated that the YMCA would do a mailer to let the students know about this service so they would come and use those facilities.
Commr. Renick inquired about the age bracket of those eligible for this free service.
Mr. Fletcher Smith, Community Services Director, responded that children ages 12 and under would need to be accompanied by an adult and that the program was for school-aged children.
Commr. Conner stated that he would be voting against this, because he thought they were creating a culture of government making people expect that things would be free.
On a motion by Commr. Stewart, seconded by Commr. Hill and carried by a vote of 4-1, the Board approved for the LakeXpress to offer free bus rides to school-aged students through the summer months.
Commr. Conner voted “no.”
change of affordable housing advisory committee LIAISON
Commr. Cadwell asked Commr. Renick to serve as liaison to the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee in his place. He explained that he liked to appoint people that had the mindset of the board in which they served, and he thought they would be better served by someone else.
On a motion by Commr. Conner, seconded by Commr. Hill and carried unanimously, the Board moved to place this item on the agenda.
Commr. Renick agreed to be liaison to that committee.
On a motion by Commr. Conner, seconded by Commr. Hill and carried unanimously, the Board moved to remove Commr. Cadwell as liaison to the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee and appoint Commr Renick to take his place.
parks and recreation budget
Commr. Cadwell commented that he wanted to seek some protection for parks from the cuts that were being made in the budget, because of the investment that the County has put into the parks and the fact that residents would be utilizing the parks often during these economic times. He also wanted to make sure they were still going to honor their commitments to Tavares and Clermont. He thought they should continue to maintain and improve the parks they currently had.
Commr. Conner commented that he thought what the County has done with parks has tremendously increased the quality of life for families in Lake County.
Commr. Cadwell added that the Sports Commission would be spending money to promote the County even more as venues, which would be an economic engine for the County.
The Board directed Ms. Hall to not make any cuts in the Parks Department and to continue to fund parks at the current level of service.
Commr. Hill stated that she was getting a lot of e-mail regarding Aqua Utilities, a private utility company who has raised the rates tremendously, and she has been trying to e-mail those people back to let them know that issue was handled by the Public Service Commission.
Mr. Minkoff explained that a public hearing was held in Clermont as was required, and four people attended. He reported that the Public Service Commission recommended approval of it, so it became a final rate increase. He assured the Board that he would get them the contact information for the Public Counsel who represents the interest of the public and reviews the rate requests.
restaurant impact fee agreement
Mr. Minkoff reported that they have prepared an agreement regarding impact fees for the restaurant that they discussed at the last meeting, which would have them pay one-fifth of their fees now and the balance over succeeding years, with interest at about 5 ½ percent, and an agreement by the property owner and the lender that they could use a special assessment to collect and protect the fees.
Report on wildfires
Mr. John Jolliff, Deputy Fire Chief, reported that the fighting of the wildfires was under control right now, and they had 109 acres burn over the weekend. He commented on the success of their task force, noting that since they have started that on March 4, they have had the same number of fires each month, but the acreage that has been lost has dropped from 2,000 acres to 300 per month, and other counties were looking at using that tactical response. He mentioned that the drought index was currently over 600, and they were expecting high winds today. He informed the Board that the Central Florida Regional Task Force has asked for their help, since they reciprocate with other surrounding counties, so they might be sending units to Volusia and Seminole Counties.
There being no further business to be brought to the attention of the Board, the meeting was adjourned at 10:45 a.m.
welton g. cadwell, chairman
NEIL KELLY, CLERK