Charlotte County government began its 2019/20 fiscal year on Oct. 1, but the development of that budget began almost a year ago. For local governments, the budget is far more than just a list of spending line items. The budget is how strategic direction, policy and priorities are set. It is a long-range financial plan and an operations guide. As important as the budget is, the process is just as important.
The purpose of the budget process is to help decision-makers make informed choices about the provision of services and capital assets and to promote stakeholder participation in the process.
Charlotte operates a two-year budget process, meaning we plan on a two-year cycle but the county commission adopts two one-year budgets. This process begins with the county commission updating its strategic plan. Starting with strategic goals helps ensure we are keeping a long-range perspective and allocating resources based on what we are trying to accomplish rather than just what we have done in the past.
For the 2019/20 and 2020/21 planning process, the board modified the structure of its strategic plan to make it easier to communicate both to the public and to staff. A major reason for this is to improve “line of sight” to make sure employees can clearly see how their individual jobs link to the goals established by the board.
The BCC streamlined from nine strategic focus areas with more than 70 goals to four focus areas:
Infrastructure: to build and maintain countywide infrastructure that meets our evolving needs and enhances our community appearance, improves public safety and protects our natural resources.
Economic and Community Development: to create a business climate that promotes a diversified, growing economy consistent with sustainable growth management plans, environmental stewardship and enhanced quality of life.
Public Service: to maintain a safe and healthy community by delivering essential services from skilled, professional and dedicated public servants.
Efficient and Effective Government: to manage fiscally sound county operations with a culture of transparency, accountability, citizen engagement and innovation.
These four focus areas identify the major types of work that Charlotte County engages in and commits resources to. Because these four focus areas are comprehensive, every employee can see how their work contributes to the strategic direction of the county. Within this framework the board has established “bold goals” that are ambitious but attainable within the next five years. Achieving these goals will require Charlotte County to consider new ideas and work collaboratively with community partners.
Through meetings and focus groups within the organization and with community shareholders, a list of initiatives that would advance the bold goals was developed. These initiatives were presented to the board at workshops to gather their input before a final plan was developed. These initiatives are specific actions and endeavors that bring together the appropriate partners and optimize the deployment of county resources.
A summary of the strategic focus areas is available on our website, CharlotteCountyFL.gov. Click County Commission Under Popular Links and then click Principles & Focus Area Goals.
One goal I would like to highlight under infrastructure is funding and completing a capital needs assessment. Over the past few years, the commission has placed a high priority on safeguarding our infrastructure. Staff have developed both a 20-year capital needs plan and a 20-year capital maintenance plan. While these needs are defined, resources are limited, requiring prioritization and effective management.
In Florida, counties are responsible for all infrastructure outside of incorporated areas. In Charlotte County, the only incorporated area is Punta Gorda, which means the county is responsible for roughly 2,000 miles of road, 900 miles of canals and storm drainage, 1,000 miles of sewer lines, 1,400 miles of water lines, 2 million square feet of buildings, 1,000 acres of parks, and more. In fact, the county maintains so much infrastructure that our capital budget (maintaining infrastructure) is $375 million, nearly as large as our $400 million operating budget (sheriff, fire and rescue, parks, libraries, etc).
The county’s budget is in a healthy position. We have stable revenue growth and are very frugal in the way tax dollars are spent. The revenues available are sufficient to cover operations and the maintenance of existing infrastructure. They are not sufficient to cover the expansion of our infrastructure. As the population grows, roads need to be widened, park amenities expanded and new fire stations added.
Over the past several years we have seen a number of these expansions, such as the widening of Midway and Harbor boulevards, the opening of the new library in Punta Gorda and a new sheriff’s substation in Englewood. All of these projects were funded by a different source of revenue – the 1% local option sales tax. As long as the residents of Charlotte County see the value and continue to support the sales tax, our budget will stay healthy, securing both the services provided as well as the safety of the infrastructure we use daily.
Currently a citizen focus group is reviewing potential projects to be funded by sales tax revenue if voters approve an extension of the tax in November 2020. In April 2020, the focus group will make recommendations to the commission, which will approve a final list of projects. A referendum to extend the sales tax will be on the Nov. 3, 2020 ballot.
If you would like more information on current sales tax projects or review a list of past projects, visit CharlotteCountyFL.gov and click Hot Topics.
Gordon Burger is the Charlotte County budget director. Readers may reach him at Gordon.Burger@CharlotteCountyFL.gov.