NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. -- For the second consecutive year, the Nassau County Commission passed a budget without raising taxes, agreeing instead to plug a nearly $12 million budget hole with a blend of reserves and sales tax revenues. However, pulling from the reserve fund and sales taxes means the board will start the fiscal 2013-14 year already in an $11.7 million hole.
At Monday's budget meeting, commissioners voted unanimously for a $155 million operating budget for the fiscal year 2013-14 that calls for no tax hikes, dropping the county's reserve funds down to less than $4 million.
"Come Oct. 1, we're starting with a minimum deficit of $11.7 million again," said county budget director Shanea Jones, who called the board's decision not to raise taxes a "temporary fix."
"They elected not to address the (budget) shortfalls," County Manager Ted Selby told First Coast News.
Commissioners have not raised taxes for the past five years.
The board agreed to plug the hole using 75 percent, $5.3 million, of its penny sales tax revenues, which is typically used to fund capital projects, dipping into reserves to the tune of $4.7 million. The commissioners opted not to set aside reserves for the upcoming fiscal year.
The county's fleet replacement was a victim to budget cuts, which would have paid for upgrades to about 20 of almost 200 county vehicles. Some construction projects funded by the county's five-year Capital Improvement Plan were also cut.
One item that kept its funding was a proposal to build a new Sheriff's administration building, a project Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper has said is sorely needed. The approved budget has set aside $10 million in funding for the project.
The board ignored calls from county staff to raise additional revenues to offset a gap between operating revenues and expenses.
At a previous budget meeting on Sept. 12, the board nixed a plan to raise roughly $3 million by hiking the millage rate by a half-mill. Commissioners also previously scrapped plans to raise revenues with proposed gas and fire taxes.
As Nassau County is preparing to hear from the county's bond ratings agency next month, county staff says reducing the funding the county has in reserves could pose a problem for the board. Dwindling reserve levels could mean a downgrade for the county's bond rating.
Jones said, "They've been backed into the corner."
First Coast News