Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Need for County's Services Up as Budget Is Down; St. Johns Population Grew by 54 Percent from 2000 to 2010, Latest Census Shows

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Need for County's Services Up as Budget Is Down; St. Johns Population Grew by 54 Percent from 2000 to 2010, Latest Census Shows

Article excerpt

Byline: Shakaya Andres

St. Johns County is finding itself caught between its population increase and the cost of the services needed for rising numbers of residents during a slow economy.

The 2010 census shows that since 2000, the county's population grew from 123,135 to 190,039, a 54 percent increase.

During that decade, the county's number of registered library patrons went from 56,746 to 102,260 and circulation increased from 60,533 to 124,735.

"If the population has gone up 54 percent, I wouldn't be surprised if the service has gone up at least 50 percent," said county Commissioner Jay Morris, Ponte Vedra representative. "We're dropping in revenue and the services continue to climb."

As the demand for recreation, libraries, social and fire services have increased, the county's budget continues to shrink. County data shows that from 2007 to 2010, library circulation increased by 12 percent, participation in recreation programs increased by 18 percent and social services and mental health client visits are up 9 percent.

Animal Control animal intakes increased by 31 percent, new cases for code enforcement increased by 60 percent and fire rescue emergency responses increase by 36 percent.

St. Johns County is a desirable place to live and the quality of life is extremely high, said county spokeswoman Karen Pan. Compensating for the increase in residents has been challenging with the budget consistently decreasing, she said.

"It's an inverse relationship," Pan said. "It's been shrinking for five years. The demands are up. The commission has done an excellent job maintaining most of the services."

In response to the financial challenges, county officials have reorganized government operations, curtailed nonessential hiring, hired part-time workers where feasible, reduced about 200 staff positions, frozen salaries or cost-of-living adjustments, used unpaid furlough days for some staff and used layoffs and early retirements, among other actions. …

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