Digging Out of the Hole

The Escambia County Commission heard a bit of good news this morning. The county’s $9.6 million budget deficit has been whittled down considerably.

“The deficit that we’re working with today is $410,382,” County Administrator Randy Oliver told commissioners, adding that after planned retirement buyouts that amount would drop to $264,855.

Already faced with a multi-million dollar hole to grapple with, the county’s budget problem ballooned this spring after the state of Florida deemed that counties would be paying for a decade’s worth of Medicaid bills, which upped the deficit more than $6 million.

Commissioner Gene Valentino commended staff for finding cuts in the budget. The reductions—coupled with higher than expected ad valorem dollars—allow for the nearly balanced budget.

“I think there’s been some good things in this process,” Valentino said. “It’s what I call scrubbing the budget appropriately.”

Oliver presented the board with two ways to deal with the remaining shortfall. Commissioners could take the money from an account—currently holding $5 million—set aside due to a lawsuit involving property taxes on Pensacola Beach. Or, they could cut four positions off the payroll. Or, they could request that the Escambia County Health Facilities Authority kick in $264,000 to offset the funding of Escambia County Community Clinics.

Oliver said a letter—requesting more than $400,000—had already been sent to the Health Facilities Authority (the board members of which are appointed by county commissioners). The county administrator said that, legally, that decision rests with Health Facilities Authority.

“We would have no authority to take it,” Oliver told commissioners.

Commission Chairman Wilson Robertson suggested the county request only the deficit amount.

“Rather than try to get the 200 extra, I’d request the 264,” he said. “I’d like to cut this back to 264 and balance the budget.”

Commissioner Grover Robinson agreed: “I believe we should only ask for what we need.”

The board agreed that Oliver should send a second letter to the health authority, this time explaining to its members that four county jobs were on the line.

“They might just kind of break down and let us have it,” said Commissioner Marie Young.
After inquiring if they could replace members of the health authority board, several commissioners said they planned to call board members in order to stress the point. The county must complete its budget by July 15.