Weeks of budget drama culminated in anticlimax Thursday afternoon as the Dade County Commission approved a much-revised budget in a meeting that was over before late-arriving butts made contact with chair seats.
But the budgetary fat lady still hasn't sung. Though there will be no tax hike and no millage rate increase this year, because the fiscal year 2019 county budget "accepts growth" in the tax digest--using the funds generated by increased property values rather than rolling back the tax rate--the county will still have to advertise a tax increase and still be required to hold public hearings on it.
There was not that much growth--about 4.44 percent, which will only boost expected FY 2019 revenues $164,000, says County Clerk Don Townsend. At the last budget meeting on June 21, the budget had a $600,000 shortfall. The commission made up the difference by making more painful cuts and by patching in $235,900 from the fund balance, dipping into a reserve it had prided itself on building up in recent years.
The final budget of $10,177,000 is down $235,500 for roads from last week's stab plus $165,600 for equipment that roads boss Billy Massengale says his department can't do without. "Billy's not going to be happy about that," said County Clerk Don Townsend.
If the roads crew can't do without the equipment and the county can't do without roads, the money will have to come from somewhere--presumably SPLOST (special purchase local option sales tax) collections, of which the county constantly laments the decline, and on which it depends for everything from cop cars to swing sets for the county park. Citizens complaining that SPLOST projects never get completed--and that no new swing sets ever materialize at the county park--may continue to have something to complain about.
Another cut that may cause general weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth is a slash in the days citizens can obtain or renew driver's licenses locally. Currently, Driver's Services personnel come to Dade two Mondays a month. That will change to one, though Townsend wasn't sure when the change will become effective. "I think they've made their schedule through December," he said.
And again, even though the commission wrestled and cut, snipped and pared to avoid raising property taxes, the rise in the tax digest generates the requirement to advertise a tax increase, which in The Planet's experience in turns generates angry citizens waving said advertisements accusingly at public hearings. County Executive Ted Rumley didn't seem worried about it.
“Some years you have a roomful, some years you don’t. You don’t ever know," said Rumley. "Resistance or no resistance, you just answer their questions and do the best you can to make things right.”
No dates have yet been announced for public hearings. Rumley said they would be announced next Thursday, July 5, at the commission's regular July meeting.