Solitary speaker during public hearing raises questions about millage rate for Mosquito Control program
With only one speaker signed up to address the members — on funding for the Mosquito Control Program — the Sarasota County commissioners cast the necessary votes within 30 minutes on Sept. 26 to adopt their budget and final millage rates for the 2020 fiscal year.
The total budget, as County Administrator Jonathan Lewis pointed out during the hearing in Venice, is $1,320,929,368. That marks a 6.3% increase over the funding for the current fiscal year.
The new fiscal year will begin on Oct. 1.
The General Fund, which is made up largely of property tax revenue, totals $314,631,745. Of that amount, 54.2% — $170,632,743 — is expected to come from property tax revenue, according to a slide provided to the board members in advance of the hearing. That is an increase from $160,333,658 in the current fiscal year.
Revenue from permits, fees and special assessments makes up another $17,942,381.
Of all the departments whose operations the General Fund covers, the largest is that of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office. That total projected for the 2020 fiscal year is $120,266,497, which is a 3.2% increase over the 2019 fiscal year level.
Documents also note that the county has budgeted for 3,646 full-time employees in the new fiscal year, an uptick of just 0.7%, compared to the FY19 figure.
As the commissioners made plain to staff at the outset of planning for the FY20 budget, they did not want taxpayers to deal with any increase other than the extra millage voters approved during the November 2018 General Election for the extensions of The Legacy Trail to Payne Park in Sarasota and through Venice to North Port.
Thus, the total millage rate set for the new fiscal year is 3.8435. The amount dedicated to covering the estimated $65 million in bonds authorized by the 2018 Legacy Trail referendum is 0.0419 mills.
The General Operating millage is 3.2075, which is 3.84% higher than it would have been if the board members had kept the rate at the level necessary for property tax revenue to remain flat for the current fiscal year. Because property values rose again, as reported by the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office during the summer, the average taxpayer will see a higher bill this year.
The Mosquito Control District millage rate for FY20 is 0.0520 mills, which is a 1.52% decrease, compared to the “rolled-back” rate of 0.0528 mills. The latter figure would have entailed no changes in that part of a property owner’s tax bill.
A protest over the mosquito control millage rate
The lone speaker for any of the Sept. 26 public hearings on facets of the new budget was Robert Roehrig, who has a Venice address but actually lives in the city of North Port, he told the commissioners.
As noted by Chair Charles Hines, Roehrig made essentially the same argument in person that he had made earlier in the month in an email to the commissioners.
On Sept. 11, Roehrig wrote, “Mosquito control spraying is done with chemicals the same as a farmer or [homeowner] treats their land. The more land you treat the more chemicals you use.”
His lot, he continued, comprises 10,667 square feet. A friend of his — who also lives in North Port, Roehrig added — has a home on a parcel that has 25,459 square feet. “This is over twice my area, but he pays 4 times less [in Mosquito Control Program millage].
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that his lot takes over twice the amount of chemicals to cover … than mine,” Roehrig wrote. “Why does he pay 4 times less? Something is wrong here and this definitely needs to be addressed. These calculations are certainly unfair for residents of this County.”
On Sept. 13, Chuck Henry, director of the county’s Health and Human Services Department and the county’s health officer, provided the following explanation in an email, a copy of whichThe Sarasota News Leaderrequested, along with Roehrig’s email.
Henry wrote, “Mosquito Control activities are much more than simply spraying chemicals. They are in fact, a part of the community service infrastructure provided by Sarasota County government with a goal to enhance quality of life and protect the public’s health. Chapter 388 of the Florida Statutes describes the creation of Mosquito Control Districts, Responsibilities of local government and the use of a tax levy to fund their important work.”
Henry added, “All mosquito control districts in Florida are funded through a property tax levy. Again, mosquito control activities are performed to protect health and safety and to foster quality of life, promote economic development, and facilitate the enjoyment of Florida’s natural resources. This is why citizens are charged a mileage rate [based] on property value, not the size of a yard.”
Henry further explained, “There are many parts to a successful mosquito management program …” The spraying for adult mosquitoes is actually only a small portion of it, Henry added. The goal, he pointed out, is to manage the mosquito population by killing mosquito larvae, and that takes place in many types of habitats, such as “swamps, ditches, woodlots, containers, bromeliads, flooded fields, catch basins, etc.”
Additionally, Henry wrote that staff monitors the mosquito populations throughout the county in those habitats. “That effort takes up much of our work force but allows us to focus our efforts where they are needed most and limit the impact of chemicals in our environment.”
At the conclusion of his email, Henry pointed out, “We do offer tours of our mosquito management operations to the public. If you would like to take a tour of the mosquito management facility, [Wade Brennan, the mosquito program manager] “would be happy to provide one.”
The Capital Improvement Program
Among other votes on Sept. 26, the commissioners also unanimously approved the county’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for the next five years. The amount of money allocated to a wide variety of projects for FY20 is $226,393,592.
The estimated expense of all the projects in the CIP is $1,412,240,451.
Although the CIP covers the fiscal years from 2020 through 2024, staff has made it clear many times during budget workshops that project priorities can change over the course of time. Only the list approved for the upcoming fiscal year is final as of adoption of the CIP.
Among the higher allocations in the FY20 CIP is a total of $25,250,912” for new roads and improvements to existing roads; $27,750,000 for initiatives of the Public Utilities Department regarding drinking water supplies; and $27,770,000 for the work on The Legacy Trail.