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Guest column | Mike Nurrenbrock

Budget 101 for Pasco County taxpayers

With the reduction in several revenues and property values during the current economic downturn, the Pasco County Commission will be required this summer to make some tough decisions as to what services we will offer next year, the level of service to be provided and how we will pay for those services. Based on letters to the editor, e-mails and one-on-one conversations with residents, we realize we need to do a better job of explaining to our citizens the budget decision process.

Welcome to Budget 101. There are only two prerequisites for this course: curiosity and the ability to read. No tests. No term papers. I promise not to take attendance. For most people the budget is a 460-page book filled with too many numbers, too many words and not nearly enough pictures. To them, the budget adoption process is a boring and complicated mess which they want nothing to do with until their taxes go up or a service they use is reduced or eliminated.

Here's how the process works and why it's important to you as a taxpayer.

The county and all other local governments in Florida have a fiscal year that starts Oct. 1 and ends Sept. 30 of the following year. Right now we are in fiscal year 2009 and are working on the proposed budget for 2010.

Each department and division, after being given a target amount to reach, determines its operational priorities and submits its proposed budget. Each budget is reviewed in meetings by the Office of Management and Budget and the county administrator. Last year departments under the County Commission came up with more than $13.8 million in reductions to tax-related funds. Once these meetings are completed, the proposed budget is presented to the County Commission by July 15th.

During the rest of the summer, the County Commission studies the budget, asks questions of staff and determines what priorities they want reflected in the final budget. The public has its chance to voice its opinion during two public hearings in September. The final budget is adopted at the second public hearing just a few days before the new fiscal year starts.

In some ways the County Commission budget is put together like a jigsaw puzzle. Each piece of the puzzle is called a fund and each fund represents a different purpose or function. The biggest misconception that the public has is that all of these funds can be spent for any purpose.

"Instead of using the tourist tax to build a tennis stadium, why don't you use it to fix my sidewalk?" is the type of comment we often hear. The reality is that most of our funds — and nearly 70 percent of the county budget — are restricted by state and federal laws, regulations, ordinances, court cases or policy as to how they can be spent.

So how is the money allocated?

There are 68 funds that range in size from $193,864,628 in the general fund to $3,275 for the Pasco County Housing Finance Authority. The general fund, our largest fund, is used to provide the basic governmental services to all citizens of the county such as emergency medical services, parks, libraries and constitutional officers such as the supervisor of elections and sheriff. The general fund is less than 20 percent of the total budget and one of only two funds that receive property taxes.

Special revenue funds comprise nearly half of the total budget and are funded by specific revenues such as grants, impact fees or the tourist tax. These funds are used to provide a specific service such as the municipal fire fund, which provides firefighting services in most of the county and is the only other fund that receives property taxes.

The rest of the funds are similarly restricted. Debt service funds are used to make payments on long-term loan obligations. Capital project funds must go toward multiyear construction projects such as jails and parks. Internal service funds must be used for things like insurance coverage vehicles and heavy equipment for county departments. Another 25 percent of the budget — the enterprise funds — are funded by fees and assessments and must be used for water and sewer or solid waste services.

What's the point of all of this? That while the county seems to have a great deal of money to spend, many of those dollars must be spent in a very specific way.

We encourage citizens to be informed about the process and share with us their views. E-mail us at budget101@pascocountyfl.net. Additional information on the county budget may be found on the Pasco County Web site at tinyurl.com/budget101.

Mike Nurrenbrock is director of the Office of Management and Budget for Pasco County.

Budget 101 for Pasco County taxpayers 03/22/09 [Last modified: Sunday, March 22, 2009 4:49pm]

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