Legacy Trail bonds and rise in property values will mean higher tax bills for Sarasota County residents

Overall Sarasota County budget up 4.4% for 2020 fiscal year

Pie charts compare the 2019 and 2020 fiscal year budgets for Sarasota County. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Even though the Sarasota County Commission made the commitment again this year not to raise taxes, property owners will see higher bills with the Truth in Millage — or TRIM — notices go out in August.

First, the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office announced last month that its preliminary figure for the overall value of county property is up 6.1% this year. The final number for budget purposes will be released by July 1.

Still, the early figure is lower than the last projection state economists released in March, which was 6.4%.

Additionally, property tax bills will reflect extra millage that has been estimated at 0.0453 to pay for the improvements to The Legacy Trail that voters authorized in a Nov. 6, 2018 referendum, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis pointed out during the commission’s June 18 budget workshop.

The first debt payment on the bonds the board approved to cover the $65-million North Extension of the Trail to downtown Sarasota, and connections from Venice to North Port, is due on April 1, 2020, according to a slide Lewis showed the board.

The preliminary overall county property value is $62.2 billion, which is $500,000 less than the $62.7-billion figure for the 2008 fiscal year — right before the Great Recession hit, according to a slide staff showed the commissioners. At its lowest point since FY06, the slide said, total county property value stood at $39.1 million in FY13.

If prior county commissions had kept the millage rate flat with the FY07 level of 3.69 mills, the slide noted, the county would have had an extra $195 million in revenue. Instead, because of the recession, the board cut the millage to 3.34 for the 2008 fiscal year.

The millage rate rose to 3.39 in FY13 because of an increase in the millage associated with the county’s Mosquito Control Program; staff advised the board that higher spending for that program was a necessity.

With the uptick resulting from The Legacy Trail bonds, the total millage rate planned for FY20 is 3.44 mills.

A graphic shows changes in the county’s overall taxable property value over the past years. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Based on the FY20 spending proposals submitted by departments under control of the commission — plus those of the departments operated by the county’s constitutional officers, such as the clerk of the Circuit Court and county comptroller, the supervisor of elections and the sheriff — the overall FY20 county budget is expected to rise 4.4%, compared to the FY19 budget, Lewis pointed out. However, the operating portion of the budget will go up only 0.6%, based on the latest staff projections, he said.

The total budget for FY20 is estimated at $1,297,396,428. The FY19 budget total is $1,242,441,007.

For FY20, revenue going into the General Fund is expected to increase 5.1%, Deputy County Administrator and Chief County Financial Management Officer Steve Botelho told the board.

Based on the preliminary 6.1% increase in property values the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office released in late May, total property tax revenue is expected to rise from $160,333,658 this year to $170,189,288 in the 2020 fiscal year, according to a slide Botelho showed the board.

The final figure for the property tax increase for budgetary purposes will be available from Furst’s office by July 1, in compliance with county law. The County Commission then will set its not-to-exceed millage rate in early July.

Other sources of revenue for the General Fund are half-cent sales tax revenue, franchise fees paid by Florida Power & Light Co., state revenue sharing and a Communications Services Tax. Altogether, Botelho said, General Fund revenue is projected to rise from $228,652,574 in the current fiscal year to $240,380,988 in FY20.

The General Fund pays for operations of a number of county departments as well as those of most of the constitutional officers.

A chart provides details about changes in major revenue sources. Image courtesy Sarasota County

For the departments the County Commission controls, Lewis noted, the total operating budget increase from the 2019 fiscal year to FY20 is projected at 3.5%. However, debt transfers will be down 16.2%, according to a slide. After factoring in a 2% uptick in debt service payments in FY20, the total increase in the General Fund portion of the budget for those commission-controlled departments will be 2.7%.

Other budget considerations

Lewis also pointed out on June 18 that in the 2018 fiscal year, the county did not need to spend any money from the Economic Uncertainty Fund that commissioners had set aside prior to the start of the Great Recession. At its highest point, a slide showed, county staff had to take $17,254,246 from that fund to balance the budget in FY14.

Based on the latest local and state projections for revenue and expenses, the commission is looking at no shortfalls through the 2024 fiscal year for its General Fund.

Revenue from the Economic Uncertainty Fund is expected to be used to make up the difference between revenue and expenses, the latest county staff projections show.

A graph shows changes in the number of full-time employees at Sarasota County Government. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Effective with the current fiscal year budget, the commission approved a plan to begin building back up the Economic Uncertainty Fund, Lewis noted. Hurricane Michael’s devastation in the Panhandle underscored the necessity of maintaining such a reserve, he pointed out.

Bay County leaders had to issue bonds to cover expenses related to the recovery from Hurricane Michael, Lewis noted.

According to the Government Technology/Emergency Management website, Bay County leaders in early April approved their second, $100-million bond issue, which puts the county’s total borrowing at $250 million to pay for debris removal and infrastructure repairs.

A graphic explains how certain funds may be used, per state regulations. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Among other details covered during the June 18 Sarasota County budget discussion were the following:

  • Kim Radtke, director of the Office of Financial Management, reminded the board that if ground is broken for new construction in 2019, the county will not collect any property taxes on the completed project until the 2022 fiscal year. Staff allows for two years for new development to end up on the property tax rolls.
  • $100 million in new construction will generate $344,000 in property tax revenue, based on the preliminary taxable value released in late May and the proposed county millage rate for FY20.
  • Since the 2005 fiscal year, total property tax revenue going into the General Fund has ranged from about $133.1 billion to $170.2 billion. The high mark was in FY08, when the amount was approximately $175.7 billion.
  • In the current fiscal year, the budget included funding for 3,619 full-time employees. For FY20, the full-time employee count has been put at 3,636.