Local News

Constitutional officers return $1.4 million

SEBRING - Times were tight, so all last year, Property Appraiser Raymond McIntyre watched the budget. When an employee retired, he didn't hire another. The oldest computers that were scheduled to be replaced were still working well, so he didn't buy new ones. That's how McIntyre's office was able to return more than $93,000 to next year's budget. He was one of five constitutional officers who gave back almost $1.4 million to Highlands County. About $929,000, said Tim Mechling, senior manager with the Office of Management and Budget, is unrestricted ad valorem tax dollars, meaning it can go into the rainy day fund and be used to balance the fiscal year 2014 budget. "The remainder is going to various funds or grant dollars which are restricted for a specific purpose," Mechling said.
For instance, federal grant dollars that were appropriated for E-911 operations can be used next year, but only for E-911. Sheriff Susan Benton returned $628,000 in 2013 funds, but only $276,000 can be used for any purpose in the 2014 general fund budget. "When you look at what the (county commission) gave a constitutional officer through the budgetary process from ad valorem tax dollars," Mechling said, "the amount labeled as general fund is what the constitutional officer actually returned of those funds. The rest is not from the board-allocated funding." Tax collectors began issuing driver's licenses last fiscal year, which ended Oct. 31, so that was extra revenue, but property tax collections were down. "That hit us hard," Eric Zwayer said. As a former employee of the clerk of courts office, instead of buying new computer servers, he joined technology services with old boss Bob Germaine. That saved the tax collector's office $100,000 last year, and it will save $200,000 for the next two years. The clerk's office saved nearly $60,000 by cutting down on office supplies and not replacing an employee who left the accounting office, said Jerome Kaszubowski, senior director of business services. When Zwayer took over the office two years ago, he looked at every expense - including bottled water. "That was costing us $3,000 a year," Zwayer said. "Now we have filtered water out of the tap." "As we can find ways to spend less or save money, we do that," McIntyre said. The retired employee alone saved the county $50,000 to $55,000 last year. "If we don't need replace oldest computers, we don't spend that money. We try to be very conservative with our spending," McIntyre said. "We may budget it again next year." gpinnell@highlandstoday.com 863-386-5828