Pinellas County residents may see $946 million worth of improvements in road projects, buildings and parks as part of the newly proposed $3.8 billion budget.
Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton presented the county’s proposed Fiscal Year 2024 budget Tuesday to the Board of County Commissioners. The proposed budget accounts for increases in the costs of labor and materials as well as $2.8 billion for the county to sustain its day-to-day operations – all without raising the tax rate.
Burton opened the discussion by stating the planning for the budget was “a little bit unique.”
“We are really focusing on things that make residents feel safe,” he said. “We continue to streamline behavioral health services, improve transportation infrastructure and also provide [funds] for the workforce. Recruitment and retention, as we’ve seen in many businesses, is very difficult, and we need to address that.”
The plan suggests the county should retain its current 4.7 millage rate, which dictates the property taxes. Per the proposed rate, the county would collect an additional $63.7 million.
The Penny for Pinellas sales tax will continue to fully fund projects and is balanced for the remainder of its 10-year term.
He outlined a $40.2 million increase for the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. The recommended funding amount, which is a 10% increase compared to the prior budget, is due to salary increases that would “make PSCO competitive with other local law enforcement agencies.” The salary increase represents $9.5 million of the budget while $13.1 million is associated with the retirement system. The increase in the budget would address includes jail medical costs, food for inmates and other related needs to “keep the lights on,” Burton said. Those items make up $7.1 million of the increase.
Changes in the Florida retirement system for officers represent a big chunk of the proposed budget for PCSO, Burton said, explaining how it is unavoidable and the staff “tried to keep this budget tight.”
The 400-page proposed budget also calls for $18 million to replace all the state and county lights within the county and upgrade the current management system.
“We have a very complicated traffic management system because people are going north, south, east and west all at the same time,” Burton said, stating the current system is old and outdated. “[The county] will use the money to improve the most congested corridors, moving people from Point A to Point B.”
He said a new policy will go before the county in the coming months about utilizing reserves to make infrastructure improvements while maintaining sufficient reserves to cover other expenses.
Burton indicated the budget includes a salary increase of 4.5% for all county employees. Hillsborough and Pasco counties share similar salary rates.
The lowest-paid employees would see a salary bump to $18 an hour. The plan also suggests that there would be a $600 increase to base salaries and a $600 one-time payment. Burton explained the increase is needed to help workers reside in the county as housing prices and expenses continue to escalate.
“Our main challenge is inflation. There isn’t a contract that’s come before you where you don’t see these massive increases we’ve had to deal with this past year. This budget accounts for that,” he said.
Burton also highlighted the recommended $12 million designation that would help launch the Coordinated Access Model, which was created to find and bring solutions to the health care services gap in the county.
The county will host community work sessions on the proposed budget in August.
The first public hearing is scheduled for Sept. 7. A second public hearing will take place Sept. 19.