Orange County got looks Monday morning at some of the key components of what is being proposed in a $900 million operating budget that includes requests from Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings for more deputies and higher salaries for deputies.

The sheriff’s $234.3 million operating budget is the largest part of that, and would take up much of the anticipated increases in tax revenue, with Demings seeking an 7.7 percent increase, which he outlined to the Orange County Commission last month largely receiving support from Mayor Teresa Jacobs and the county commissioners.

Demings is running for mayor now himself, having announced his candidacy two weeks ago, seeking to succeed Jacobs, who’s tenure ends at the end of 2018 due to term limits.

In his June presentation Demings argued that his deputies were underpaid compared with other departments in Central Florida, and that the county’s growth left the department understaffed, especially compared with other law enforcement agencies in the area. He proposed a budget that would add 55 new positions, mostly deputies, and add almost $9 million to the payroll to increase the pay scales.

His June presentation, along with that Monday of the Orange County Fire Rescue Department from Fire Chief Otto Drozd, came as the county’s revenues look as strong as ever, nearly fully recovered from the Great Recession, which hit the county hard after 2009.

Drozd is preparing for the openings of two new stations in 2018, one near the University of Central Florida and one in Avalon Park, plus the additions of two new rescue units. Yet his $164.5 million proposed operating budget, adding 38 new positions, reflects a more modest increase of 4.4 percent compared with what Demings sought for the sheriff’s office.

The county’s property tax is expected to bring in $533 million, up about 10 percent from the 2017 fiscal year.  The county’s half-cent sales tax revenue is up 3 percent to about $172 million. The sheriff’s office and fire rescue Municipal Service Taxing Units district tax revenue is up about 10 percent each. Other tax sources, such as the gas tax, are flat, but overall, the county is projecting an increase of nearly 8 percent, to about $1.1 billion.

All of those tax sources are showing huge increases from the depths of the recession, 2011-’14, but really are only modestly higher than the pre-recession peak in 2009. And the county has seen a population increase of about 26 percent since then.

“It has taken us a while to get over the recession, but we are finally seeing that we are out of the woods,” said County Administrator  Ajit Lalchandani.

But there is a cloud on the horizon that could wash away some of the county’s income: The Florida Legislature placed a proposed Florida Constitution amendment on the 2017 general election ballot that would give home owners a greater tax break through the homestead exemption. That’s going to drain money now headed to local governments, about $15 million from the county’s general fund, and about $4.5 million from the Fire Rescue Department and $3.6 million from the sheriff’s office.

“I think it’s important for the public to know who’s cutting their taxes, and what that does to things like fire and rescue, and our sheriff’s budget. Obviously we’re extremely concerned about it,” Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said. “Whoever follows me is going to have a challenge ahead of them with the 23 percent decrease in revenues if that comes to pass.”

The county commission’s budget workshops continue Monday and Tuesday,

 

About The Author

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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