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Increases abound in Pinellas County’s proposed 2016 budget

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With an improving economy and new construction countywide, everyone gets a little more in the $2 billion Pinellas County budget for 2016.

At exactly $2,029,414,630, the proposed spending plan for next fiscal year, officially submitted to County Commissioners on Tuesday, came in $67.5 million higher, a 3.4 percent jump from last year.

Larger budgets are necessary to cover inflated costs of doing the county’s business, said Pinellas County Administrator Mark Woodard.

“This increase, as well as the operating budget increases […] are primarily driven by inflationary pressure and the cost of opening our doors,” Woodward told commissioners in his presentation. “There’s also the inclusion of the various funding priorities of the Board’s, which are incorporated in these amounts as well.”

Among other recommendations: reserve funding at $90.3 million, with operating costs growing by $53.2 million, a 3.6 percent increase from last year.

Also higher will be the county’s general fund. With a growth of $27 million, it will increase 4.5 percent in 2016. According to Woodard, two-thirds of that will come from collecting more property tax on new construction and improved real estate values.

About half of the total general fund increase goes to more funding for the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.

As for the county’s millage rates – there was no projected change.

“Countywide taxable values are up by 6.8 percent,” said Woodard after presenting millage rate information. “New construction has doubled that of last year, [coming in] at $839 million. Both (are) further signs that our local economy continues to recover.”

Funding for departments operating under the Board of County Commissioners (BCC) will make up more than $1.3 billion of the overall budget — 3 percent more than last year. Costs for BCC departments, which report to the county administrator, expect to increase by $25.9 million from last year, and, as a group, they represent two-thirds of total county expenditures.

BCC departments oversee a range of Pinellas County services, including airport operations, solid waste, animal control, EMS, parks and public works.

Governmental services will also increase by $23.3 million and enterprise services will get another $2.6 million.

The county’s budget for constitutional officers came in at $342 million — nearly 17 percent of the county’s budget. Of that, operating costs will get another $19.4 million, for a total of $311 million, with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department receiving $265.2 million, or 85 percent.

Constitutional officers include the clerk of the circuit court, comptroller, county property appraiser, supervisor of elections and tax collectors.

Woodward noted that sheriff’s funding now represents nearly half of the total general fund budget.

“That’s up from 49 percent during the current year,” he told commissioners, “and 47 percent the prior year.”

Funding assigned for “other agencies” will also increase in 2016, with a price tag of over $367 million — 18 percent of the total budget and 1.3 percent more than last year.

Falling in the category of “other” are internal services, business technology, risk management, human resources, court support, libraries, fire districts and recreation.

If the budget passes as is, Pinellas County will continue to have the smallest debt per capita ratio of all urban Florida counties.

On July 30, the BCC will hold a budget work session, where they’ll further debate the county’s projected spending plan.

An overview of the county’s recommended budget for 2016 is available at pinellascounty.org.

Devon Crumpacker is a Tampa Bay based writer and reporter for Extensive Enterprises Media. He primarily covers Pinellas County politics for SaintPetersblog.com, but also makes time to write the occasional bar review for FloridaBarTab.com. He lives in St. Petersburg with his fiance, Sydney. To contact, e-mail devon@floridapolitics.com, or visit his Twitter page @DevonCrumpacker.

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