Take your pick: there's both good and bad news about the Lee County budget forecast. Reserves are running better than expected, but the budget shortfall is huge once again: an estimated 50-million dollars.
"It shows we are doing some things right, because we have a big savings in reserves -- 10 million dollars. The total reserves go from 160-million to 170. We saved that through cost-cutting and some other measures. But the deficit is very large,and we have to make up that shortfall to balance the budget for the coming years," said Commission Chair Frank Mann.
County administration is suggesting that commissioners raise the tax rate, which could bring in more tax dollars. However, Mann and Commissioner John Manning both told WINK News, they would oppose an increase in the tax rate. "This is still not the time to raise taxes, too many people are hurting. I will oppose that," said Manning. Commission Chair Mann said dipping too deeply into reserves would be an unwise option, as well. Mann has said if Lee wipes out reserves, it will have to drastically raise taxes and cut employees in 2 or 3 years.
During their budget briefing Monday afternoon, commissioner Ray Judah said the county might have to raise the tax rate. Otherwise he asked, "Are we going to erode the response time of the EMS (Emergency Medical Service)? Are we going to cut into human services, which helps people in need in tough times? Are we going to cut the law enforcement personnel, which is a huge part of the general fund?" His colleagues had no answers for those tough questions.
Commissioners have a lot of time to work on the budget. They must have a balanced budget by the end of September, 2011.