Budget shortfall is bad news

Published 2:28 pm Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Daniel Witt

Despite a concerted effort made by the Charlotte County Board of Supervisors (BOS) and County Administrator Daniel Witt at several long work sessions to tweak the upcoming year’s budget, the outlook is, nevertheless, not good. It is, in fact, bad. The bottom line of the current draft budget after adjustments reflects an enormous negative balance of $681,961 for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. Left unchanged, there is a real possibility that due to the county’s deficit residents could see a tax increase of up to 25 percent on real estate property.

The vast majority of the ending negative balance can be isolated to a single category — debt service on loans that were taken out for the construction of the new courthouse and capital improvement projects at three of the county’s public schools, two of which are on-going.
The Bacon and Phenix District school renovation projects, and the recently proposed contracts for the completion of both, when considered as a single item for scrutiny, have raised serious questions.

The primary focus is on the high dollar estimate associated with the Phase II proposal and the manner in which it has been presented to the Board of Supervisors for approval.

The contract with Jamerson-Lewis Construction is written under the provisions of the Public-Private Education and Infrastructure Act (PPEA).
A presentation was made by Charlotte County Schools Superintendent Dr. Nancy Leonard and CEO of Jameson-Lewis Construction, Phillip Jamerson, regarding the Phase II PPEA proposal as a change order to the Phase I contract. The Phase II proposal was several million dollars higher, at $7.3 million, than the original $3.2 million proposed for the Phase I portion of the project. The cost increase and change order concept left the board uneasy. Acting with due diligence, the BOS delayed funding Phase II pending legal advice from counsel regarding options.

An important consideration, especially for parents with young school aged children, is that, regardless of current action, the schools are not finished and project completion will require additional funding. Phase I

funding is not reflected in the current draft budget.

Witt offered his insight on the County’s budget woes and the amount of debt service choking the county at present. According to Witt there are circumstances, like the lawsuit against the county to build the new courthouse, that the Board really had no control over. The County was sued. It had to be done and the financial position Charlotte County had wasn’t great then.

He further illuminated that the school renovation projects came right on the heels of the courthouse. 

During the March budget work session Witt explained the draft budget to the Board. During that session the option of increasing taxes was discussed openly.

According to Witt the draft budget shortfall and the funding of Phase II of the school project would amount to a 13 cent per hundred dollar or a 25 percent increase in tax for residents to bear. Wylliesburg/Red Oak District Supervisor, Kay Pierantoni said at that point, “I don’t want to do that to these residents. Where are they going to get it? We have to find another way.”

The Board of Supervisors will meet on April 10 at 7p.m. in the administration meeting room. It is open to the public.