Osceola County continues to face budget deficits

Commissioners contemplate money saving changes going forward

The Osceola County board of commissioners will hold a public hearing on the FY2023 budget proposal on Nov. 1. Commissioners are once again struggling to present a balanced budget, which is required by state law.

The Osceola County board of commissioners will hold a public hearing on the FY2023 budget proposal on Nov. 1. Commissioners are once again struggling to present a balanced budget, which is required by state law.

Tyler Thompson

OSCEOLA COUNTY — As it has for the past several years, Osceola County is facing a significant budget deficit for fiscal year 2023.

Osceola County commissioner and finance committee chairperson Sally Momany told the board during a recent meeting that, in September, the finance committee had proposed a balanced budget that was about $26,000 in the black, which included recommendations for removal of several special projects, reduced staff in various offices and potentially cutting some services.

Discussion by the finance committee included possibly eliminating a part-time detective position in the sheriff’s office, reducing the staff to six road patrol deputies and four school resource officers, and eliminating the K9 unit. 

Other proposals included eliminating a part-time position in the emergency management department, reducing the clerk’s office staff from five to four employees, and reducing the information technology position from full time to part time.

In addition, consideration was given to the possibility of eliminating the animal control department and privatizing the animal shelter.

However, Momany said, after hearing from department heads and members of the public, the board reconsidered those cuts.

After much discussion and a consensus of the board, they added back into the budget the part-time positions, animal control, the part-time detective, four additional road patrol officers, IT and a reduction in commissioners’ salaries, she said.

“Tim (Ladd, county coordinator) and I have spent countless hours going over the budget. The decisions we make aren’t always real popular, but we do the best we can,” Momany said. “As commissioners, we have a duel role — to be good stewards of tax payer money, but also of listening to our public. Our public was very respectful, very concerned and very vocal about what they want. After listening to the community, we reinstated programs and ended up $806,000 in the red.”

Further adjustments to departmental budgets brought the deficit down to $538,500, she said.

During subsequent board meetings, Momany said the finance committee has discussed additional money that could potentially come in, including grant funding for the school liaison officer, state revenue sharing estimated at about $250,000, and moving funds from the delinquent tax revenue fund (DTRF) to the general fund in the amount of $200,000.

“If we chose to move $200,000 from the DTRF fund and the revenue sharing along with making a change to how we are currently covering technology, we would have a balanced budget,” she said.

The FY2023 budget has estimated total revenues of nearly $27,500,000 and estimated total expenditures of around $28,000,000.

The general fund revenues and expenditures are estimated at just over $11,020,000.

'WE NEED TO FIND A SOLUTION'

The county is required by state statute to present a balanced budget every year, and for the past several years that has required the use of hundreds of thousands of dollars from the reserve fund balance, leaving commissioners concerned about the remaining fund balance.

Looking ahead to next year and beyond, board members agreed steps need to be taken to maintain a balanced budget without depending on the reserve fund balance.

Some potential cost savings being discussed include the privatization of the animal shelter, joining a consortium for IT services and offering additional buy-outs for employee benefits.

“In doing additional research, we have looked at options for animal control,” Momany said. “I think it is important that we do have a place for the animals to go, but it may not be county run.”

She added that research has shown that there are four departments within the county that utilize a technology consortium and she would like the board to consider utilizing the consortium for all county technology services.

“I know there is the concern that we would not have an individual readily available for IT issues, but our research has shown that we would,” she said. “Doing the consortium could save approximately $100,000.”

In addition, she said, staff has discussed increasing the potential buyout for insurance, which depending on the number of employees that take the buyout, could save the county a substantial amount of money. 

“We need to find a solution to this problem, and if we need to make some cuts, we need to make some cuts, and if we need to make some compromises, we need to make some compromises,” commissioner Jim Custer told the board. “The way we are going right now, we are not getting anywhere.”

“Everyone that works here gives everything to Osceola County,” he continued, “but we cannot go out and look these people in the eyes and say we are going to approve a $200,000, $300,000 or $400,000 deficit every year.”

Michell agreed, saying “We know the process isn’t going to be painless, and we are going to have to make some cuts somewhere. We keep raising salaries, we raise retirement — we want to have the best people and we want to take care of them  — but the bottom line is that is why we are short. So, do we want to continue to trim around the edges or do we want to cut staff, because that is what is going to happen down the road.”

Chairperson Mark Gregory said it is his goal to put a plan in place where they can present a balanced budget in the next two or three years and can do it through cost savings and not at the cost of employees.

“Whether it is some of the changes that were spoken of with the IT consortium and the animal shelter being done privately, those are things we can work on going into next year,” Gregory said. “We can start focusing as we move into the new budget year on other potential cuts so that the 2024 budget will be better. We want to continue to provide services to our people, but at the end of the day, you can’t spend what you don’t have.”

A public hearing on the proposed FY2023 budget is scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 1, at the Osceola County Administrative Building.

To view the proposed budget visit osceola-county.org.