Orange County Budget Blues 2007 Gavin P Smith

Budget Blues for Orange County

Will cuts in property tax revenue affect major programs?

Orange County Budget Blues 2007 Gavin P SmithORANGE COUNTY – As often seen, actions at the state level can have a profound effect on the activities at a local level.  While state lawmakers look ahead to the next election cycle, tax cuts are the name of the game.   That’s causing a dark cloud to form over Orange County’s budget.  Individual property owners would argue that this dark cloud has a silver lining.

State lawmakers are planning to cut property taxes, giving property owners a sigh of relief from what many contend have been high rates recently.  However, these individual savings could amount to quite a deficit for the public good. 

 “The Florida Legislature and the Governor have made proposals to reduce property taxes and this will certainly affect the Orange County budget,” said John Byrd, aide to Orange County Commissioner Fred Brummer.

As a result of the reduced revenue from property taxes, Orange County is faced with a potential cut of up to 20% of its upcoming annual budget.  That equates to roughly $145 million, leading to reductions, if not eliminations, across the board for a variety of public projects. 

One commissioner has already called the situation ‘dismal’. 

Which programs could face the chopping block?  According to officials, there’s already an extensive list of cuts proposed for meetings over the next month.  While some obvious cuts would be future projects such as the commuter rail, other cuts would come from existing programs including mass transit, emergency response, public works and education.  All could see a slowdown in funding. 

“Orange County Government will be working on the county budget in July and it will be finalized in September for the upcoming fiscal year,” said Byrd.

But when you’re an Orange County official looking at the initial data, you, like your colleagues, are perplexed to say the least.   While some programs can absorb the cuts, others are begging for increases.  Due to the recent surge in crime activity, many call for public safety budgets to increase.  Officials have already confirmed a boost in budget for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.  There is also an expected increase in the Corrections budget.  The number of inmates in correctional facilities in Orange County is anticipated to jump almost 100% this year alone. 

If so, that means a further hit on budgets in other areas.  Government subsidized programs such as after-school programs, health care clinics, Lynx mass transit routes, and more could see reduction in services, hours or even complete closure.  There have also been rumors that Orange County could cut fire rescue budgets, delaying the construction of several new fire stations as well as equipment purchases.  Fire officials are fighting those cuts.

With the fire and hurricane seasons upon us, and the needs for emergency and safety services on the rise, just where will the money come from to keep those vital programs at or above their current levels?

The answer may lie in the rise in fees for some services.  Plus, there’s speculation that impact fees or higher sales taxes could be in the mix as a possible solution.  However, local officials fear it will get worse.  Later in the year, state lawmakers looking to make deeper local tax cuts an upcoming ballot issue.

There are rumblings that if Commissioners would cut the fat, there would be no need to harm any major programs.  No matter what the perspective, the solution proves to be difficult at best.  Whatever the answer, it will have an impact on Orange County citizens in some way.  Of course, we could always lease a toll road.  But that’s another story.

Posted in Orlando Tribune.