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Covid-19 pandemic shapes Pinellas County’s budget plans

Margie Manning

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The proposed Pinellas County budget for fiscal year 2021 will have a big increase in reserve funding, as the county prepares for what could be a bumpy financial ride ahead.

The $2.5 billion operating and capital budget includes an increase of about $191 million in reserves, with money set aside for unanticipated needs, according to a presentation at the county’s Board of County Commissioners’ meeting Tuesday.

“We know we’re in the middle of a pandemic, the outcome of which we do not know,” County Administrator Barry Burton told commissioners. The budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 takes a multi-year approach, he said. “We don’t know what will happen, so we tried to take a conservative approach to next year to where we have reserves to ride out any economic bumps or downturns throughout this two-year cycle.”

The budget proposal does not change the millage rates for next year, which are used to calculate property taxes.

“We are expecting there’s going to be a decrease in property tax values and as a result, property tax revenue, going into fiscal year 2022,”said Bill Berger, director of the county’s Office of Management and Budget. “As a result of that, it’s even more important to be able to sustain a decrease in revenue because that represents almost 75 percent of our general fund revenue.”

Next year’s budget includes some of the $170 million the county received from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, earlier this year.

Much of that funding will to be used to provide back-up supplies to hospitals and nursing homes when they fall short, as well as for Covid-19 testing and facilities for patients if hospitals exceed capacity, Burton said.

Overall, the proposed budget for next year is up 3.7 percent from this year, not counting the CARES Act funding. Departments that report to the Board of County Commissioners  — including the St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, animal services, emergency medical services, parks and public works — will see a combined budget decrease of 0.3 percent.

There’s a 4.3 percent increase in the budget for the operations run by the county’s constitutional officers, such as the Sheriff and Supervisor of Elections.

The county’s projected 5,454.5 full-time equivalent staff next year is about the same as staffing levels in fiscal year 1994, Burton said.  

Commissioners will take a deeper dive into the budget at a work session on July 30. Public hearings are scheduled for Sept. 10 and 22.

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