The Sarasota Journal

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Steady course on county budget

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SARASOTA COUNTY –– Eight months into the fiscal year 2020 budget, and county officials don’t expect to make any drastic changes at present.

Even with the wrecked economy due to the shutdown resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and revenue losses staring to appear, budget officials told commissioners during a workshop last week that they were optimistic that the county could weather the situation.

As the toll on county revenues in sales, gas and bed taxes became apparent in March and April, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis said he had paused $7.3 million in expenditures. These came through suspending staff travel for training, a landscaping project at the county administration center, and painting at the R.L. Anderson Administration Center.

Hiring for county staff was limited to only mission critical positions.

Mentioning that the monitoring of the budget is heavier this year than in the past, Budget Director Kim Radtke said, “We hope the large amount of income in the first half will help in the second half of the year. But at mid-year, we were doing very well.”

Commissioner Alan Maio reinforced Radtke’s comments by pointing out that at the mid-point of the budget year, the county had spent only 34 percent of the budgeted amount.

“I think that people will be coming to Sarasota County in the fall,” Commissioner Charles Hines said explaining that the impact of the virus on major attractions and sporting events would lead people to look elsewhere for activities.

“I don’t think this is the time to make cuts,” Hines added. “I don’t want this board to panic and make deep cuts to levels of service.”

“We may have to pause and freeze, not cut, cut, cut,” Commissioner Nancy Detert remarked.

Looking forward and assuming that revenues, especially the various tax revenues, could be less than expected, the budget staff is in the process of preparing the fiscal year 2021 budget.

The county’s budget year begins Oct. 1.

Lewis said he expects to prune $5 million in expenditures from the general fund to keep the budget balanced.

One key factor that will indicate where the county stands comes next week when the property appraiser releases the preliminary property values.

“I think that’s a perfect recommendation for where we’re at at this time,” Hines said of Lewis’ planned cuts going forward. “It’s a measured approach, not a panicked one.”

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