Monday, February 12, 2018
Commission puts ‘nonessential’ programs under microscope (SAR)
Thanks to Mayor Nancy Shaver's leadership, the county is now talking about data-based decisions. It's about time. But watching St. Johns County Administrator MICHAEL DAVID WANCHICK try to introduce accountability concepts is like watching a duck try to make love to a football. He's a patsy for Sheriff DAVID SHOAR and a puppet for developers. Also:
1. This meeting was six (6) days ago. We deserve TIMELY coverage, not week-old news.
2. The Jesse Dunn presentation was NOT in the agenda packet. Wonder why?
3. The presentation focused on cost recovery for services, and identifying costs. The term "nonessential" is spin and surplussage, normative, judgmental and inflammatory, it would appear.
4. I spoke in public comment (NOT quoted) and noted the need to make developers pay for the cost of ALL the services of the entire building dedicated to servicing their need, full of guys named "Bubba" granting them permits, rubber-stamping bad projects.
5. County Administrator Michael David Wanchick once expanded the number of bumptious Bubbas at the same time he cut library hours. How revealing.
6. County Sheriff David Shoar's bloated budget must be subject to cost accounting.
7. County Commissioners need to pass an ordinance requiring ALL five Constitutional officers -- Sheriff, Clerk of Courts, Supervisor of Elections, Property Appraiser and Tax Collector -- to present their budgets by May 1, 2018.
8. THEN the County Administrator's budget hearing must be held in public (not an outbuilding) in the BCC Auditorium, TELEVISED.
9. No more secrets. No more coddling developers and their indecent demands to destroy our nature and history.
10. No more automatic budget increases for the Sheriff's bloated budget.
11. No more no-bid contracts. No more evergreen contracts.
12. No more marginalizing essential services (like libraries) as "nonessential." That dawg won't hunt.
13. It is time for Michael David Wanchick, County Administrator for Life, to find another line of work. It's time for him to go.
14. We don't need his kind of arrogant, autocratic, developer-driven, other-directed misrule any longer.
15. Character counts!« less
By Jake Martin
Posted at 6:44 AM
St. Augustine Record
St. Johns County commissioners, at their Feb. 6 meeting, directed staff to look at the costs of certain “nonessential” county programs and services and to come back with options for recouping some of those costs. That could mean higher countywide taxes or individual fees, or reduced services.
The board previously requested preliminary information in December.
Jesse Dunn, director of management and budget for the county, told commissioners the ongoing challenge for local government is to balance the community’s expectation for programs and services with what the community is willing and able to pay for. He said that, while the services are certainly valued, the community doesn’t always recognize the true, incremental costs involved in maintaining them.
He said the county receives a range of revenues for a range of programs and services.
While the countywide property tax is a collective way to raise funds that also reduces per capita cost of service, Dunn said there’s always debate over what services should be paid for by every property owner in the county. With individual fees, people get a better idea of the true costs, although Dunn said that clarity comes with a higher cost per user.
“This is a long spectrum of discussion,” he told commissioners, adding that the basic challenge the county faces is providing services that exceed its revenues.
Dunn said people want more libraries, more parks and more fire stations, but other issues such as insufficient drainage infrastructure, minimal funding for pavement management and a lack of affordable housing have also snowballed over the past couple of years. He said the county’s growing pains are pains, but still better than the alternative.
The bottom line, he said, is the commission can increase contributions — whether that’s individual fees or a millage-rate hike — or decrease the level of service provided.
For the purposes of discussion, “nonessential” services were generally defined as being those related to culture and recreation, and not services such as public safety, transportation or physical environment.
Dunn said staff will be coming before the board in upcoming meetings with costs on such items as beach services, parks-and-recreation services, boat-ramp services, library services, animal-control services and other service areas as directed. He said they will be using actual expenses and service levels from fiscal year 2017 as the basis for cost analyses.
To illustrate, he said service area “A” might have a total cost of service of $1 million, with a current fee offset of $50,000, leaving a net cost to the General Fund of $950,000. Supposing this service had 47,500 users, and assuming a full-cost recovery is desired, a $20 fee per user could close the gap.
Dunn said they would just be providing the implied cost of recovery and the commission could decide what fees, if any, to levy, and whether to make those revenues unrestricted or tie them back to the programs or services for which they are collected.
Commissioner Paul Waldron said he’s heard from 15 to 20 boaters willing to pay a fee for boat ramps, as long as it goes toward upkeep or upgrades of the ramps.
Commissioner Jimmy Johns said he thinks it’s the board’s fiduciary duty to explain to taxpayers what they’re paying for, and he argues that breaking it down to a cost-per-user level is the way to do it. He said ascertaining those costs would be a way to start the conversation and get feedback from residents.
Johns also took issue with the “nonessential” tag, saying the goal is really to make sure the county is getting the most bang for its buck. He said they don’t want to stop any services that people want to retain.
Commissioner Jeb Smith expressed some skepticism that the county could get legitimate, quantifiable user numbers from departments trying to justify their existence. He said even assuming they receive legitimate information on users, there are different intensities and kinds of uses of programs and services that could result in apples-to-oranges comparisons.
Dunn acknowledged the challenges of properly and fully capturing the number of users (and whether they’re residents or non-residents) and said they’re going to try not to put round numbers through square tests. He said there are certain programs for which user data will be easier to quantify than others — looking at ticket sales at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre, for instance.
Waldron said a golf course might be easy enough to track, looking at rounds of play, while visitors to the beach can range from a family spending the entire day there to someone walking over the beach walk and taking a 10-minute stroll.
Circling back to the “essential services,” Johns said the county also has a substantial deferred maintenance backlog that they need to catch up on. He said there’s no reason these projects should be deferred when the county is a destination for tourists and new residents alike.