Santa Rosa County is planning out its 2022-2023 fiscal year budget

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Santa Rosa County leadership agreed Thursday for an initial discussion of the next year’s budget, which commissioners touted as focused on “funding for infrastructure” and “low taxes.”

The Santa Rosa County Board of County Commissioners and staff held its first public workshop on the draft budget for the 2023 fiscal year. Among the topics at the forefront of the discussion were financial shortfalls at the county’s Sheriff’s Office, capital project preparation and personnel retention.

Santa Rosa County’s 2021-2022 budget was $10 million higher than the year prior, thanks to a rise in property values ​​that in turn spurred an increase in property tax revenue for the county.

Jayne Nicholas, the county’s budget director, estimated there will be an additional $10 million in revenue for the upcoming 2022-2023 budget year, bringing the estimated general fund revenue to around $125 million, with additional revenue estimates expected to come by mid-July.

“We have been directed by this board and the citizens to make infrastructure our No. 1 priority, and that’s exactly what we’ve done,” Nicholas said of the upcoming budget.

A document presented Thursday showed a proposed split of the projected $10 million in additional revenue, with some $5.5 million going to infrastructure, $2.5 million allocated for the Sheriff’s Office and $550,000 for salary increases. The remaining $1.5 million or so was divvied among operations, capital equipment and other needs.

The report noted the county has spent over $100 million on capital projects in the past five years, as well as $21.8 million resurfacing more than 252 miles of roadway.

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Still the county has approximately $149 million in capital projects left to fund, with an eye toward investing $86 million in transportation, $37 million in stormwater management, $4.4 million in environmental projects and $1.7 million in public safety in future projects.

Sabrina White, the county’s deputy budget director, said the list of projects will be narrowed down further in July.

“I’ve told our staff, I’ve said if you don’t come at me with a minimum of 50% investment in infrastructure, I’ll vote against the budget,” said District 1 Commissioner Sam Parker.

The county Sheriff Bob Johnson gave a presentation outlining an expected budgetary shortfall in the department that he pinned on increasing operational costs, such as fuel.

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He said the shortfall could lead to the department being unable to employ eight deputies.

Commission Chairman Bob Cole, along with several other commissioners, voiced the fact that he wants to provide all that is needed to the sheriff’s office.

“I’m not going to sit here and watch my sheriff, who does an outstanding job, sit and beg over $650,000. Period,” Cole said. “I’m going to support (him).”

The commissioners did not say exactly how the shortfall would be addressed, but several ideas were suggested including one where the SRSO and BOCC touch base at several points throughout the year to address the department’s increased operating costs.

Johnson stressed that as the population in the county grows, the agency must grow with it.

The county’s population grew by about 24% over the last decade.

White spoke to how the county looks in comparison to neighboring counties and those across the state which are comparable in size. She stated that Santa Rosa ranks the lowest in property tax levy per capita of those comparable counties and the lowest revenue per capita compared to those counties.

Statewide, Santa Rosa has the third-lowest revenue, just above Union and Lake counties.

Brad Baker, the county’s assistant administrator, spoke about strategies the county is exploring regarding employee retention. A salary survey is slated to be finished in the coming months, and Baker said the county is moving toward an open pay range based on a performance merit system.

“We’re offering professional development opportunities; we’re fostering and strengthening teamwork. We’re encouraging work-life balance for our employees, and then we’re developing a pipeline with focus on retention,” Baker said. “This includes a progression plan, longevity awards and flexibility throughout the work week.”

“The county staff has faced numerous challenges over the last several months, including the loss of several key staff members,” said County Administrator DeVann Cook.

Ultimately, the commissioners took a positive tone about how the budgetary discussions were proceeding.

“I like what I see. It’s one of those things that we all ran on for funding for infrastructure; low taxes,” said District 3 Commissioner James Calkins. “This new budget is exactly that.”

The tentative date for the final public hearing on the budget is Sept. twenty-one.

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