Our Town 50
State of Florida
Sarasota County Government Links
Our Town 50
Across the County
By Jim Ley, Sarasota County Administrator
Whenever I’m out and about the county, someone stops me to say, “The county” ought to keep the bathrooms cleaner, “the county” should buy more land for protection, “the county” should build more roads, “the county” shouldn't build roads through my neighborhood, “the county” should pay more for arts, “the county” should provide health care for everyone, “the county” should be doing this and “the county” should not be doing that.
While I appreciate the input, it underscores the misconception that the county is an entity with deep pockets — here to serve everyone's needs. You are “the county,” and I am “the county.” So, when people say, “The county ought to do this or that,” they are really saying that they, themselves, their neighbors and I ought to be doing this or that.
About 80 percent of what county government does is mandated by state or federal law. Counties are extensions of state government. The legislature can dictate to the county what our priorities should be and what we pay for.
Almost all the quality-of-life services the county offers — parks, beaches, transit, public safety, the criminal justice system, libraries, planning and natural resource — consume nearly 25 percent of the county budget. While the county provides many of the services people want and expect, it can’t afford to provide them all.
To add to the complexity, the state is in a severe fiscal crisis. Last year, it balanced the budget using $1.5 billion in one-time money. It took the birthday money that Grandma sent Bobby and used it to pay the electric bill. So, the state began this year at least $1.5 billion in the red.
Just like “the county,” there are people who think “the state” should pay for things, such as fewer kids in classrooms. Unfortunately these same people don’t explain how the state, and you and I will pay for these programs. Now the state may face an $8- to $27-billion shortfall over the next eight years.
On the federal level, the government’s cash crunch has it telling the state to take on more of the Medicare and Medicaid financial burden at a time when healthcare costs are out of control and our population is aging.
The of the two fastest growing pieces of the state budget are education and
Medicaid. Nothing else gets talked about in the state budget until these two things are reconciled. In Florida, the state has assumed most of this burden. Now the state can’t afford it, so it makes the county pay for more and more.
This year it is likely that the county will be required to pay up to $3 million in additional Medicaid costs and $1.5 million in child abuse investigation costs that would have otherwise been paid for by the state. The county’s general fund will pay for this responsibility. And this is only the beginning.
Over the next five years, the state will be left with only one option
(other than tax reform) to pass costs to counties for Medicaid, children’s services and health services, and that is forcing you to pay property taxes for services, or for the county (you and me) to accept or reduce levels of service.
At Sarasota County Government, we focus on ways to limit the impact of shouldering more and more costs that were previously the state or federal government’s responsibility. We strive to build a strong property tax base. Every day we look to operate more efficiently, cut costs, and adopt user fees so that you and I don’t pay for services we don’t use.
For instance, when you hear that the county is talking about charging users for beach parking, we do so to keep your taxes low and your service levels high while absorbing costs that the state passes down — for things that you used to pay for through state sales taxes.
Just like your budget at home, we have to figure out ways to pay for the services you want and expect. We wrestle with these issues on a daily basis. So, when you give me your laundry list of things “the county” should be doing to make your life better, be sure to include your plan to pay for it. I need all the help I can get.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your concerns or to tell me we’re doing it right. Be a part of your community’s energy in 2003.
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State of Florida Community Links