With new revenue figures coming in higher than anticipated, and certain expenditures remaining on hold, county staff offers positive outlook for 2021 fiscal year

Public hearings on proposed budget set for Sept. 14 and Sept. 23

This pie chart shows details about the proposed Sarasota County budget for the 2021 fiscal year. Image courtesy Sarasota County

State revenue sources seem to be rebounding from the effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic, Sarasota County finance staff reported to the County Commission this week during its Aug. 31 budget workshop.

For examples: Staff projected in May that revenue from the half-cent sales tax would total about $5.8 million for the three-month period of March, April and May; instead, the actual figure is $7,076,312. That marks a 22% drop from the amount originally budgeted for that period, which was $9,085,051. Still, the new figure is up 21% over the earlier staff estimate.

For another example: The expectation for state revenue sharing proceeds for the same three months was lowered in May from $2,596,819 to $1,843,091. The actual number is $2,329,920, which is down 10% from the budgeted amount. However, the figure marks a 26% uptick compared to a May projection from staff.

Revenue the county receives from gas taxes was revised in the spring to reflect an expected drop from the original projection of $4,752,127 to $3,446,006 for March, April and May. Yet, it came in 10% above that May estimate. Nonetheless, it is down 20% from the amount originally budgeted.

This slide shows revised revenue figures for March, April and May, compared to earlier expectations and the original figures in the FY 2020 county budget. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Regarding expectations for upcoming months: “June is looking good,” Steve Botelho, the deputy administrator and chief financial management officer, told the commissioners on Aug. 31.

Although the focus this week was on the budget for the 2021 fiscal year, which will begin on Oct. 1, Botelho; Kim Radtke, director of the Office of Financial Management (OFM); and County Administrator Jonathan Lewis provided those and other updates regarding the current fiscal year, which will end on Sept. 30.

To contend with declining revenue as the pandemic gained a figurative foothold on the economy, Lewis noted, staff had put a hold on $5 million in expenditures out of the General Fund for the remainder of this fiscal year. Comprised largely of property tax revenue, the General Fund covers payments for the operations of many county departments, along with those of several of the county’s constitutional officers, including the Sheriff’s Office and the Supervisor of Elections Office.

Among the $5 million in pauses, $2,174,300 was for the Public Works Department. For example, staff vacancies are not being filled; 25 streetlight-and-pole assemblies will not be replaced; and rural and urban mowing cycles will be reduced, with the duration between those cycles lengthened from 45 days to 60 days in the winter months.

In the Health and Human Services Department, among other examples, $264,503 is being saved by deferring the hiring of two extra nurses to expand the healthy babies and community health equity programs, plus the deferment of adding primary care services through contractual arrangements.

These are details about some of the savings in the 2020 fiscal year budget for the Health and Human Services Department. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Further in Health and Human Services, the county’s share of Medicaid expenses, which are mandated under state statute, declined this year. That figure for the 2020 fiscal year came in $135,000 lower than originally budgeted, according to a document Lewis provided the commissioners in June.

The Libraries and Historical Resources Department, for yet another example, is saving $434,495 by not filling 10 vacant positions and ceasing Sunday hours revived Jan. 26 at the Selby Library in downtown Sarasota and the Frances T. Bourne Jacaranda Library in Venice.

In May, Botelho reminded the commissioners, staff expected a drop of $7.5 million in major revenues for the General Fund. The latest estimate is a decrease of $3,732,000. Yet, Botelho pointed out, staff has no intention of spending the $4.2 million. “We can use that rolling into the next fiscal year.”

All in all, he said, “We’re looking pretty good” for the rest of the 2020 fiscal year. “I think for FY21 we’re in really good shape.”

Looking ahead

The overall county budget for FY 2021 is $1,333,211,009. The General Fund was put at a total of $322,878,520. The tax revenue is expected to add up to $179,395,491, or 56% of all the money anticipated for the General Fund next fiscal year.

The Sheriff’s Office budget — $123,445,882 — accounts for 38.2% of the General Fund expenditures planned for the 2021 fiscal year, according to a budget summary staff provided the commissioners in advance of the Aug. 31 workshop. However, Sheriff Tom Knight and his staff worked to keep their year-over-year increase in spending to 2.6%, Deputy County Administrator Botelho pointed out.

This chart compares budgets for the county’s constitutional officers and other agencies and boards. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Radtke of the Office of Financial Management noted that the FY 2021 budget overall is up 0.9% from the FY 2020 budget, with a 2.3% increase in the operating portion of the spending plan. The county is planning on 3,661 full-time employees in the next fiscal year, she added.

For FY 2021, Botelho continued, staff has projected a $9.4 million decrease in General Fund revenue.

Among factors built into the revised budget for the next fiscal year, he noted, staff expects sales tax revenue to be 20% lower, though the state is calling for a drop of 10% to 15%.

Further, “The state just updated the property values,” Botelho said. “Those look like they’re going to grow a little less.” Still, he added, “These are estimates.”

This slide shows changes from the 2020 fiscal year budget to the one planned for FY 2021 for departments under control of the County Commission. Image courtesy Sarasota County

If, by the end of the first quarter of 2021 the financial situation appears worse than anticipated, Botelho told the board, staff would offer options on how to deal with the situation.

“What does the exercise look like,” Commissioner Christian Ziegler asked, “if another shutdown were to occur [as in April, in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19]?”

“We would have to see what the impacts would be,” Botelho responded. Staff historically is conservative in its budgeting, Botelho added.

The first steps, he continued, would entail staff members look for internal measures that could be taken to lower expenses. In the most extreme situation, Botelho said, staff would seek direction from the board members on other ways to save money.

The commission will conduct its formal public hearings on the proposed 2021 fiscal year budget on Sept. 14 and Sept. 23.