The Ponte Vedra Municipal Service District approved a budget of $1,669,389 for the 2023-2024 fiscal year during a special budget meeting on Sept. 20.
The meeting served as the final of several meetings in recent months that had been held discussing the budget and the details pertaining to it.
The approved budget consists of the total revenue and balances, as there will be a cash balance of $944,737 and a combined revenue of $724,652, which will include an ad valorem tax, with a millage rate of .2464, of $696,652 and an interest income of $28,000.
The millage rate was lowered from .27 previously to the rollback rate of .2464. It is the second consecutive year the MSD has agreed to reduce the millage rate.
“The reason we were able to do that is because last month the board voted to hire the lobbyist, so that’s $40,000 we had budgeted, but we can pay it this month out of this fiscal year,” MSD chairman Al Hollon said. “They cap their expenses at $3,000 so therefore the only item we carry forward is $3,000, so it reduced the cash balance and reduced that line item and then we reduced the reserves.”
MSD trustee and treasurer Rick Brown questioned the $150,000 placed in the public safety budget for drainage improvements, stating that it was not clear to him why that much was being set aside.
“Finding the solution is not the challenge for the MSD,” Brown said. “The challenge for the MSD is to advocate on behalf of the MSD to those who can make the changes. We don’t have any of the authority needed to make any of the drainage improvements that are needed. We can set aside all the money we choose to set aside, but we can’t spend it meaningfully, because we can get all the studies we want but we can’t affect the change that has to be made.”
The board approved the final budget by a vote of 4-1, with Brown being the lone opposing vote. Trustees John Cellucci and Charles Callaghan were absent at the meeting.
“I completely understand what you’re saying,” Micky White said. “What I think is the most effective way to get these things done in the shortest time possible for our contingency.”
According to White, the county is dealing with crumbling infrastructure all throughout and not just in Ponte Vedra Beach, which means there is a list of projects that they have been made aware of, but now it comes down to getting the funds necessary to make them happen.
“My vision of how we could use that money is to help advocate and prioritize our neighborhoods,” White said. “If we do not advocate for these improvements, then we would be like everyone else in the county and go on a list that’s a mile long.”
He stated that through his talks with the county engineer and that department, they have relayed to him that if a special district or MSD would be able to do some cost sharing with the county when it comes to design and engineering aspects to help with the cost of an overall project, it would help push that project along.
“It’s just hard to rationalize in my mind and for a number of people that I’ve talked to,” Brown said. “All of these things that we’re talking about are already paid for in our St. Johns County property taxes, so we’re layering on to further subsidize or prioritize getting things done that theoretically should already be getting done.”
The drainage issues are not a new problem for Ponte Vedra Beach and the surrounding county.
“Ten or 12 years ago I had a drainpipe collapse between my house and the county came out and said, ‘We can’t fix it because we don’t have money in the budget to fix it,’” Hollon said. “I just think it would be good to be proactive and induce the county.”