Local News

Commissioners to ponder $10 million deficit

— The Great Recession started in December 2007 and ended in June 2009. That’s according to the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research.

Don’t tell that to the Highlands County Commissioners, who are staring at a $10.7 million deficit, caused in part by still-declining property values.

The commissioners will begin solving that deficit problem when they meet at 9 a.m. today in Highlands County Government Center, 600 S. Commerce Ave.

“The last several years have been very hard, and the County continues to face serious challenges,” County Administrator June Fisher’s FY 14-15 budget message begins to the commissioners. “Revenue streams remain weak, as the costs of maintaining the capacity to deliver basic services and maintain public infrastructure continue to rise.”

The county will collect even less in property tax revenues, Fisher wrote. About .44 percent less, according to a document in the budget packet from Property Appraiser Raymond McIntyre.

Property values did rise, but tangible personal property values have fallen, there has been little construction, and that has decreased overall property values for a seventh straight year.

The state has increased the Florida Retirement System rates. The cost of recruiting and retaining a county staff has remained high.

However, Fisher said she has submitted a $122.7 million budget that’s $32,000 smaller than last year.

In previous years, commissioners have relied on the rainy day fund. This year, not much is left in the savings account, so severe cuts are possible. Those cuts will be up to the commissioners, who have scheduled meetings across July and August.

Also on the agenda:

A request from the sheriff’s office to replace an air conditioner in the jail, and to repair the fire alarm system.

Amendments to the Military Airport Zones, requested by the Avon Park Air Force Range.

A request to spend $105,000 to promote Highlands County art and culture.

Requests to use the Avon Park clay pit.