No Public at Public Budget Hearing; But Pretty Good Audience Anyway

June 17, 2016

            Library proponents, elected officials and county staffers were a rapt budget hearing audience.


            No bona-fide public showed up at a public hearing on Thursday about Dade County’s proposed fiscal year 2017 budget, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t well-attended. Constitutional officers of affected departments packed the room to make sure there were no last-minute surprises to their offices’ allotted pieces of the county pie.

             Dade County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley opened the show, explaining it was not an official meeting of the county commission but rather an informal hearing to give anyone interested an opportunity to comment on the proposed $9,112,000 budget.

            But the real ringmaster at the afternoon do was Dade’s head numbers man, County Clerk Don Townsend. Besides reviewing the figures,  Townsend used the opportunity to highlight the county’s belt-tightening ways  and to kvetch a little about the state and federal unfunded mandates that had made balancing the budget a challenge.

            “All departments have endured budget cuts,” said Townsend. Still, he said, the budget process with department heads had been civil and: “No one left kicking and screaming this year.”

            Townsend said that the proposed budget includes no use of fund balance—Dade has even in the lean years managed to tuck away a rainy-day reserve of $1.4 million to be used in case of the floods and tornadoes that laid the county low in past years,  he said—and that it does factor in paying down or paying off certain debts. He pointed out that the county had not used tax anticipation loans recently and hoped not to in the new fiscal year, either.

            He complained that a new state requirement that both parent and child be appointed an attorney in juvenile court cases had doubled the necessary allotment for the public defender’s office.

            And he said the new federal overtime-protection rule that goes into effect in 2017 will cause pain not just for the county but throughout the business community as well.

The rule basically specifies that workers who make less than $47,476 per year must be paid overtime if they work more than 40 hours a week. The old cap was $23,660. “That is huge,” he said.

            Townsend mentioned in passing that elected officials who were reelected—and all of them were this year—were eligible for longevity raises.

            Volunteer fire department spokesman Roger Woodyard asked about differing allotments for the various districts. Rumley explained the amounts looked different only on paper, because of the various departments’ bookkeeping preferences, and that all the fire departments do receive the same amount per year, $21,000.

            Both Rumley and Townsend gave heartfelt thanks for SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax ) funds, without which, they said, life in Dade would not be half so fair. “There’s lots of things we could not possibly do if we didn’t have SPLOST,” said Townsend.

            And Rumley told the assembled department heads that their ability to get along with each other set them apart from more contentious counties and helped keep Dade buzzing smoothly along. “The people of Dade County are fortunate to have you people to work with,” he said. “They kind of showed it in the last election.”

            The proposed budget includes $1,708,400 for the Dade Sheriff’s Department; $55,500 for economic development, which Rumley said includes the Dade Chamber of Commerce; $651,100 for board of commissioners/administration; and $69,500 for the county library.

            Donna Street of the library’s nonprofit Friends group said the library could always use more but was tickled to get the $69,500, which is the same amount the county paid last year.

            The library has struggled financially since the Dade Board of Education abruptly ceased its share of library support in 2012. Ms. Street said the library has requested to be more generously included in the B of E’s 2017 budget but has heard nothing yet.

            The Dade County Commission meets next Thursday, June 23, to vote on the proposed budget.  


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