The staff and St. Johns County Commissioners got an early start on budget planning at this month’s regular meeting of the commission on March 1.
In addition to beginning planning the 2017 county budget, which will be finalized in late September 2016, commissioners learned more about proposed land development code changes and the future of the county’s St. Augustine VA clinic.
FY17 budget process begins
The formal budget process began with a presentation from County Administrator Mike Wanchick, though no formal action was taken at the meeting.
“We’re really testing some of our assumptions so that we make sure we start the process on the same page as the commission,” Wanchick said.
Wanchick reviewed the short and long-term challenges facing the county. Most of the current budgetary pressures deal with reconciling funding shortfalls, strained streams of revenue and a growing population.
“We’re a rapidly growing residential community — that’s not new to anybody,” Wanchick said. “We have to take that into consideration.”
Many of the issues facing the commission while budgeting this year were also present last year, but Wanchick explained that “good luck” during the last fiscal year helped to stretch the budget. He listed windfalls such as a $2.3 million grant for the Palencia fire station, sales tax generating $1 million more than expected and a study of beach parking that would generate $700,000.
“Had those things not occurred, you’d have had a $4 million impact to nonessential services,” Wanchick explained. “We don’t have that kind of good news in the wings this year.”
Wanchick predicted a flat budget for the coming year, but pointed out that his staff is awaiting direction from the commission on other revenue sources.
VA Clinic study moves forward
The commissioners heard from Kevin Wiseman, director of facilities for the county, who asked for a transfer from the county’s General Fund Reserves in order to complete a study on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) requirements for a St. Augustine Community-Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC).
“In order to determine the feasibility of the project, prepare and submit a proposal in response to the VA’s sole source solicitation and move forward with negotiations, the county needs architectural and engineering support to analyze and determine the costs of the VA’s construction requirements,” Wiseman said.
The expense was not budgeted for the year, and therefore a transfer from General Fund Reserves of up to $50,000 was requested and approved.
“I think that $50,000 to do a due diligence to make sure the county is in good standing at the end of this process is money well spent,” said Commissioner Rachael Bennett. “Our veterans are certainly worth it, and I think you for everything you’ve done.”
Public County Commission meetings are held the first and third Tuesdays each month at 9 a.m. at 500 San Sebastian View, St. Augustine.