Dealing with difficult challenges in how to fund Gadsden County’s Emergency Medical Services and Public Library in fiscal year 2018-19 were the big items at the Gadsden County Commission’s budgeting workshop on Tuesday, July 10.
Also discussed were suggestions by Interim County Administrator Dee Jackson and Jeff Price, the county’s senior management budget analyst, for how to raise revenues and lower expenditures.
Emergency Medical Services
The biggest challenge concerning emergency medical services for the county is the $4 million in write-offs for providing services to people who didn’t pay. That makes the department’s net revenue $2.075 million for $6.075 million in billings. Department expenditures were $3.06 million, with $975,000 from the general fund and $10,000 from other sources used to balance the department’s budget.
Commissioner Gene Morgan commented, “Why is there a shortage of almost a million dollars? This is impacting everyone. If we continue to provide services where they aren’t paying, it won’t change. Something has got to be done.”
Possible solutions offered by Jackson and Price included: Outsourcing billing; Using new software to increase collections; Outsourcing/partially outsourcing services (operations, administration, billing, etc.); Researching the reallocation of Indigent Care funds; Researching the issue of using the hospital trust interest account; and Relocating of headquarters.
Commissioner Eric Hinson suggested the department pay more for salaries and closely monitor overtime pay, while Commissioner Sherrie Taylor said she is concerned about the quality of services if the department privatizes. Both Hinson and Taylor agreed that the board should come up with ways to generate more income instead of cutting services.
Commission Chair Brenda Holt suggested polling other counties thathave privatized their emergency medical services before the next budget meeting.
The county’s library also has been having difficulties meeting its budget in recent years. After having an $18,034 margin of revenues over expenditures in fiscal year 2012-13, the library has had four straight years of losing money: 2013-14 (-$158,938); 2014-15 (-$32,953); 2015-16 (-$122,140); and 2016-17 (-$158,183).
Possible solutions offered by Jackson and Price included: Reviewing the budget and cutting $100,000 to $150,000 for fiscal year 2018-19; Researching a public /private partnership for the library’s benefit; Asking the cities of Havana and Chattahoochee to help pay for their cities libraries; Reviewing current user fees and hours of operation; and Changing the policy to require bids/quotes.
Jackson said she doesn’t want to decrease services at the libraries (“we are at a level we would like to keep”), but needs the library to do better financially.
Commissioner Anthony Viegbesie asked Jackson if she had identified marginal library services that could be eliminated. Jackson replied that she would like board input on this since the library receives matching funds from a local group and the state. Viegbesie also recommended that each library department head submit suggested reductions. He reminded the board that this is taxpayer money and the board needs to be fiscally responsible with it.
Hinson said they need libraries in the communities, but said they also need to be more efficient and effective. Hinson then asked about overtime at the libraries. Holt suggested looking at peak times versus slow times, but suggested caution regarding cutting services. Taylor suggested the county partner with Leon and/or Wakulla counties to provide services more cost-effectively.
As for the county’s general fund, Price stated it is decreasing each year. After pulling $2.4 million from reserves to make up for shortfalls in revenue, the county only has about $4 million in its general fund right now.
Possible solutions to increasing revenues offered by Jackson and Price included: Increasing the property tax rate (ad valorem) from 8.9064 to 9.2500 ($740,000); Instituting a business license and increasing other user fees ($200,000); Increasing the gas tax six cents ($1,200.000); Using the hospital interest account for the expense; Creating a public/private partnership for the Library and Parks & Recreation for future funding (501c3 for endowments); Encouraging Havana and Chattahoochee to help fund their libraries; and Researching the various buildings the county rents and determining the need to raise rental rates (several buildings are being leased for very minimal
prices of $1 to $100).
Possible solutions to decreasing expenditures offered by Jackson andPrice included: Required Decreases: County Auditing ($140,000); County Attorney ($150,000); Medical Examiner ($130,000); Forestry Assessment ($3,000); Developmental Disabilities ($7,500) and Apalachee Mental Health Center ($136,000). Non-Required Decreases: Economic Development: GCDC ($160,000); Chamber: ($80,000); Funding of Nonpprofits ($253,350): Boys and Girls Club ($202,500); 10 other nonprofits ($50,850); Major Cuts in Library Budget ($100,000); Gadsden
County Health Department ($60,000); Gadsden County Senior Citizens ($102,000); Emergency Housing Repair ($100,000); Summer Youth Jobs ($132,000); Commissioner Aides ($10,000).
The county’s budgeting process will continue at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, August 14 with a third special budgeting meeting, followed by tentative public hearings to approve the county’s 2018-19 fiscal year budget on Thursday, September 6 and Monday, September 17. All meetings will take place at the Edward J. Butler Governmental Complex, located at 9-B East Jefferson Street in Quincy.
By Randall Lieberman