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Time for some clarification

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Submitted by Ryan Bell

TAXPAYERS!  It is time for a little clarification to the public and public officials. 

Over the past few years, we have had a tremendous budget shortfall that resulted in the previous commissioners being forced to adopt a deficit budget.  

According to Wikipedia, a budget (from old French bougette, purse) is a list of all planned expenses and revenues. It is a plan for saving and spending.  This deficit budget means that we had to plan to spend about $2 million more than we take in.

Now for clarification, this happened for several reasons.

We, as a county, face many budgetary challenges.  Just like you face in your household budget, costs rise and the income many times stays the same or decreases.  Many taxpayers and county employees have not gotten a raise in several years due to the economy and the rising costs of fuel, groceries, electricity and other services.   

Well, this is even worse at the county level. As our costs continue to rise, our “paycheck” continues to shrink due to declining property values and unfunded mandates that come to us from the state level. We are still working to provide expected services and access to our staff on a continually shrinking budget.

Since I became a commissioner, I have had a crash course on governmental spending. I can tell you I have made it a personal goal to keep our taxes as low as possible and not vote to increase any taxes, unless it will cause a cut in needed services, but then only if we have our spending under control.  

We have had several budget workshops, and I am proud to report that our county departments have at “round one” level of our budget planning workshops cut between 10 percent and 30 percent.  In addition, I note that this has occurred without a cut in service.  Many of our constitutional officers have cut between 3 percent and 16 percent.  I think that this shows a great effort on their part as well.

As a county, we have “borrowed” ourselves into this problem and I feel that no single change will get us out of the trenches.  As a county, we have to reform spending, adjust our special assessments, and possibly have millage increases (which will be a last resort, only if the other two items are in line).  

Special Assessments are a big issue but need to be explained to taxpayers so everyone is educated on how this will affect them. 

Special Assessments are a flat rate that every taxpayer is expected to pay per parcel to fund the budget primarily for fire and EMS.  

As a Commissioner, I see this as one of the most equitable ways to fund our services to all of our taxpayers.  This is an “everyone pays” scenario, this help us keep the millage down and not burden the land owners that have multiple parcels and pay the majority of the taxes already.  

With this possible increase, it could offset an average family household only about $50 per year but make a huge effect on our strained county EMS and fire budget to the tune of about $1.2 million.

This is my best effort as a commissioner to communicate some upcoming issues and your opinion matters so please contact me with concerns and input to ryanbellfl@gmail.com or 352-493-0081 ext 304.

Ryan Bell

Levy County Commissioner 

District 4