Here we go again. There was an opportunity to take care of our St. Johns County budget concerns back in 2015. The opportunity was squandered by three commissioners who did not allow the referendum to be put on the ballot for a citizens’ vote on a 1 cent sales tax increase. Not a commission vote.
We are now in 2017, and lo and behold our budget problems have only, you guessed it, worsened. However, this time we are closer to tapping out on our allotted reserves. No more rainy day fund for us!
In May, the county administrator and his staff held public hearings for the 2018 budget. They were instructed by the Board of County Commissioners to construct a budget using zero reserve funding. The bean counters did just that. The department heads made their requests for budget increases, most of which were denied.
How does all this impact us, you ask? It means even deeper cuts to an already streamlined county budget. We are no longer talking about our 10-year capital projects and infrastructure needs, which total $292 million. We are not even talking about our deferred maintenance projects. By the way, most of these projects will now cost us even more because we have allowed the needed repairs and maintenance to linger. All of which is referred to as “kicking the can down the road.”
We are now talking about cuts to essential services such as transportation pavement management, law enforcement and fire services. These are the very services our government is required to provide. There are already residents in some districts that are experiencing a lack of quality with these services.
Our county staff has done a terrific job of managing us through the hard times inclusive of Hurricane Matthew. Talk about a hit to our budget! They have had to work with less revenue over the last couple of years, which prompted them to make the necessary adjustments in spending. We are starting to see some improvement in property values, which in turn provides additional ad valorem revenue. However, even with the growth there continues to be a funding deficiency. Did you know that our 2017 budget is $60 million less than the budget was back in 2007 and with relatively flat ad valorem revenue? Not sure if we could cut any more spending.
Once again, there is a solution to our budget woes. One that does not involve the raising of our property taxes, one that would involve over 6 million tourists that visit St. Johns County annually, one that is easily executed and amounts to a 1 cent increase in our current sales tax and one that we were all denied once before.
Commissioners, please let “We the People” have a say and let us vote.
Ponte Vedra Beach