Construction permits on track again for record-breaking year
On April 24, Sarasota County Commissioner Alan Maio summed up county staff’s financial review at the midpoint of the 2019 fiscal year: “It looks like we’ll be in good shape as we build the budget for Fiscal Year 2020.”
Through the first six months of the current fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1, 2018, revenue from major sources for the county is 6.7% higher than projected, and General Fund revenue from major sources is 6.5% above the level anticipated as of March 31, Kim Radtke, director of the county’s Office of Financial Management, told the commissioners.
The General Fund largely is made up of property tax revenue.
Through March 31, Radtke also noted, the county had collected 97% of the property tax payments that were billed.
Among the details of the mid-year report are the following:
- Infrastructure surtax revenue — money from the 1-cent sales tax authorized by voters — is up 12.4% over the projection for March 31.
- Revenue from five separate gas taxes on the sale of fuel in the county — three local and two state taxes —is up 9.3%.
The one negative on that major revenue list, Radtke noted, was the fact that Tourist Development Tax (TDT) collections are 4.1% below the level anticipated. Instead of the $8,637,566 staff had predicted through March 31, the county had received $8,283,329.
Although the revenue from the 5% tax on accommodations rented in the county for six or fewer months was lower for every month from October 2018 through January — compared to the figures for those months in the 2018 fiscal year — Radtke pointed out that the collections for February increased 1.5% compared to the February 2018 total. “That’s a positive.”
County commissioners and tourism leaders have blamed red tide publicity for the lower TDT figures in the early part of this fiscal year.
As for county revenue related to utilities, Radtke noted that retail and bulk water sales totaled $21,664,622 through March, up 7.5% from the total staff had expected.
Wastewater revenues were 8.6% higher, she said.
For revenue allocated to the General Fund, Radtke reported the following:
- Income from the half-cent sales tax collected by the state and remitted to the county, based on taxable sales in the county, was 10.4% higher than anticipated.
- Proceeds from the 5.9% county fee on the sale of electricity from Florida Power & Light in unincorporated areas of the county was 2.7% higher than expected.
- State revenue sharing funds totaled $5,362,181, 5.3% above the level projected.
The combined General Fund major revenue sources, Radtke said, are 6.5% above the mark staff had expected through March.
In regard to the other side of the financial picture, Radtke reported that major fund expenditures at the midpoint of the fiscal year represented 38% of the money budgeted. She did note that some lower figures for departments resulted from staff vacancies, as well as seasonal factors. For example of the latter, she explained that the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department spends more in the summer months.
More positive data
Among other information provided to the board on April 24, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis said that county staff set a record last year with the number of permits issued, “and this year, we’re matching that, so far,” with almost 20,000 issued.
For single-family home construction, he noted, the number of permits issued through March 31 was 872. Of those, he said, approximately 58% were for North County projects.
And while the number of new commercial permits is down 14% from the same period in the 2018 fiscal year, Lewis continued, the value of that construction is 24% higher.
Through March 31, 2018, the number of commercial permits issued was 64, based on a graphic Lewis showed the board. For the first six months of this fiscal year, the figure was 55.
Another graphic Lewis provided the board showed that, for the first six months of this fiscal year, it took an average of 4.74 minutes for the first Emergency Services unit — an ambulance or fire truck — to arrive at a scene, compared to 5.05 minutes for the same period of FY18.
“When it comes to saving somebody’s life,” he pointed out, fractions of seconds do count. “It is literally, absolutely true.”
The county’s first responders have been working hard to improve their response times, he added.
Among other statistics from Lewis:
- County libraries saw an 8% increase in the number of patrons during the first six months of the fiscal year, with nearly 65,000 people counted.
- Ridership on regular Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) buses was down 6%. However, use of the paratransit service — which is a necessity, Lewis pointed out, for people who have no other means of transportation — climbed about 8%, with more than 79,000 riders.
- The county has 30 electric vehicle charging stations; they are spread out among 18 facilities. That figure does not include charging stations installed by the private sector or other local government entities, he stressed.
At the conclusion of the presentation, Chair Charles Hines said he could not wait until the day he saw a headline reporting “that Sarasota County is being managed very well from a fiscal standpoint.”
Good news seldom makes the headlines, Hines added.
“It’s a lot of people’s hard work over the last five or six years,” he continued, that has put the county on such good financial footing. “And we still have the second lowest millage rate in the state,” Hines said, as well as high credit ratings from the internationally recognized firms that provide those ratings.
Commissioner Maio pointed out that if the board holds the millage rate steady for the 2020 fiscal year, that would mark 21 years in a row with no increase.