Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Cuts May Be Reversed

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Cuts May Be Reversed

Article excerpt

Sarasota County leaders weigh restoring funds to some basic services

Property values are expected to increase throughout Sarasota County for the first time since the start of the Great Recession when the 2012 numbers are finalized in July, rising from $39 billion to $40 billion.

The projected 2.5 percent increase would boost the county's general fund budget by $2.7 million for the fiscal year that begins in October -- money that will come in handy as county commissioners grapple with the public backlash from a number of money-saving measures taken as property tax collections plummeted during the recession.

Basic services like resurfacing roads, mowing along roadway medians and maintaining ballfields have suffered as property values declined over the last five years.

Commissioners are considering restoring money in all three areas, along with other budget increases, such as $845,000 for employee raises and $500,000 to $750,000 to take over police and other emergency dispatching services from local cities.

Still, the rise in property values is modest, returning only the 2010 level. The total property value remains far below the pre- recession peak of $63 billion in 2006.

County Administrator Randall Reid described many of the budget priorities Friday during the first planning session for the 2013- 2014 fiscal year as "trying to make up for some of the things that have been cut or reduced in the past."

One cut that has drawn intense scrutiny involves a decision to reduce the county's workforce and rely more heavily on private firms to cut grass along roadways.

Sarasota resident Andrea Rody died in August after being hit by a car while mowing a public median. The mowing contractor responsible for the median had stopped working, prompting Rody to cut the overgrowth herself.

Reid proposed Friday that the county hire 24 employees at a cost of $600,000 annually to handle more mowing "inhouse."

Reid also recommended boosting maintenance funds for the county's 110 athletic fields, another area of the budget that took a hit during the recession. New equipment will cost $1.1 million.

Further, the county plans to hire 18 maintenance workers at a cost of $420,000 annually. …

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