Budget forecast grim, says county officials

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By Alice Du Pont

During a budget workshop for the 2009-10 fiscal year last week, the Gadsden County Board of Commissioners got news they expected to hear but weren't happy about.

"Everything is down," said Rick Hoffman, county senior analyst for the Office of Management and Budget.

The county's 2008-9 budget was $36 million but due to state cuts, according to Hoffman, it appears that another $500,000 in revenue will not be coming from the state of Florida.

Last year, the county had $1.328 billion in taxable revenue, equating to $1.388 million. This year, that  taxable property increased  to $1.395 billion, which generated about $1.431 million at the current millage rate of 8.9064, which is approximately a $42.654 gain. If the commissioners decided to raise the millage rate to the maximum 10 mills, the revenue generated would be $1.5 million. That would require a super majority vote or at least four commissioners voting to raise the millage rate.

"Each department has been asked to cut and we have cut again. Our job is to put the budget together and present it to you," said Johnny Williams, county administrator.

Clay VanLandingham, county  property appraiser, informed commissioners that the the picture is not so rosy for the county

"Over the past few years, new construction dropped from a high of  $85 million per year to $40 million last year. And it is continuing to drop.  Home sales have dropped from an average of $150,000 to around $135,000. which amounts to a 10 percent drop in value," he said.

VanLandingham said the county faces a downward trend for the next few years as real estate values continue to go down.

Next up was Clerk of the Courts Nicholas Thomas who didn’t bear any good news either. He told commissioners he was concerned about the county's fund balance. Ideally, he said, the county needs to have about $5 million in that account to address emergencies.

"I still am saying the same thing that I have said over the past few years. There is not enough money to carry the county through the first seven weeks of the fiscal year. The county will be at  $2 million by Sept. 30 and that is not enough," Thomas said.

Williams agreed with Thomas' assessment.

"That's one of the first things I looked at when I arrived here. I was shocked at the balance (in the) fund," he said.

 The budget workshop was the first in a series. The next one is scheduled for July 14 at 6 p.m.