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Palm Coast Glows Red:
2010 Revenue $4 Million Below Budget

| April 27, 2010

With plenty of red paint still in reserve.

“Another tough year as far as revenue was concerned,” Palm Coast City Manager told the city council Tuesday morning before letting his finance director outline the rather bleak numbers: The city’s general fund–that’s where your property taxes are collected–had budgeted $30.6 million in revenue for the year. At mid-year, the fund is expected to take in just $26.67 million–a nearly $4 million shortfall, the largest in Palm Coast’s 10-year history. The city’s reserves, at $33 million at the end of 2008, had dwindled to $9.2 million at the beginning of this year, and will take another hit as the year plays out.

It’s not just property taxes that aren’t generating enough revenue. Many of the city’s other revenue pots are also in deficit compared with original projections. Compared with originally budgeted figures, the street improvement fund is short $3.9 million, transportation impact fees are $5.8 million below projections, Town Center redevelopment revenue is $5.8 million below budget, capital projects $7 million below, and water utility projects $9 million below budget. (See the chart below for more details.)

It’s not yet as bad as the strict numbers reflect, thanks to the city’s once-ample reserves and cost-cutting measures. While revenue is plummeting, the city is also spending much less by hiring fewer people, filling fewer vacancies, working on fewer capital projects, and juggling a lot of money around to beef up the deficit column.

Instead of projected spending of $30.6 million from the general fund, for example, the city is projecting revised spending of $27.8 million. In effect, that will reduce the deficit in the general fund to $1.1 million. That deficit will be made up by dipping into the city’s reserve fund, what City Councilwoman Mary DiSteffano calls Palm Coast’s “savings account.”

Similar cost-cutting and accounting measures improve the appearance of the rest of the budget. Instead of spending $the projected $10.4 million on street improvements, the city will spend $8.2 million. That means that about a fifth of planned improvements or repairs will not get done this year. When you see a pothole not getting filled as fast, or a road not getting resurfaced when you expected, you’ll know why.

For all the decreasing revenue, Palm Coast is not yet near entering a net budget deficit. For the past decade, the council has put a premium on maintaining reserves at about 20 percent of the budget, a far higher ratio than in most Florida cities, counties and school board budgets. That premium is now paying dividends. But savings accounts can be exhausted, too.

But those reserves are decreasing at a staggering pace. Landon (the city manager) and his staff put as bright a face as possible on the mid-year report, but when DiSteffano asked how long the city could keep dipping into its reserves, she did not get an answer. The city’s previous-year and current-year budget figures answer her question: at the current pace, and absent an increase in taxes, Palm Coast will not be able to maintain reserves into 2011 if revenue doesn’t improve. Council members will either have to raise taxes or agree to more accounting tricks–such as coverting tax revenue for capital projects into tax revenue for the general, or day-to-day operating, fund, to make up for property tax revenue that’s not coming in.

But that may not be the smartest move. Budget cutting to save money in capital spending, Landon said, means repaving fewer roads or building fewer projects. That means hiring fewer contractors. And that, Landon said, is a problem in an economy with high unemployment. “Every time we cut our budget, we reduce the number of jobs,” he said, referring to contractors who say that absent government contracts, they’d be out of business. “So there’s that balance too of being conservative.”

For the Palm Coast City Council, budget season–when they set next year’s spending priorities and tax rate–is just beginning.

Palm Coast's Money Pots at Midyear

Money Pot2010 BudgetProjected RevenueProjected Deficit or Surplus Based on Original BudgetProjected Spending (Revised)Surplus or Deficit Based on Revised Spending Plan
General fund (where your property tax revenue goes)$30,603,708$26,670,300-$3,933,408$27,768,736-$1,098,436
Stormwater Utility10,247,40012,247,500+860,66011,386,840+860,660
Golf Course2,866,2302,662,875-203,3552,754,338-91,463
Street Improvements10,407,9006,530,200-3,877,7008,196,940-1,666,740
Park Impact Fees2,500,0001,098,400-1,401,6001,451,962-353,562
Transportation Impact Fees14,100,0007,248,300-5,838,3009,040,3041,792,004
Town Center Redevelopment11,249,5915,431,900-5,817,6911,003,0804,428,820
Capital Projects (Roads, Construction etc.)11,587,0204,533,300-7,053,7205,268,640-735,340
Water Utility Projects13,988,0004,924,300-9,063,7005,170,056-245,756
Disaster Reserves2,222,30052,6002,169,70071251,888
Solid Waste (Garbage) Fund7,658,4007,831,200172,8007,501,876329,324
Source: Palm Coast City Council / Finance

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3 Responses for “Palm Coast Glows Red:
2010 Revenue $4 Million Below Budget”

  1. BW says:

    It’s a tough situation no doubt. I think we have some solid people in place and solid leadership. Mayor Netts is a great Mayor. He has done a great job. This is a town in which political leaders care. They have been very open and more responsive to public concerns than any town I have lived in. Economic conditions are what they are right now and they will improve. It is nice to live in an area where there is a back-up plan for right now. Many places don’t have that. Obviously that can not be relied on forever, but I’m optimistic that things will improve. It will take time.

  2. Pierre Tristam says:

    I agree. But looking at the reserve numbers over the past few years, I think the picture is bleaker than the administration let on this morning.

  3. Penny Martin says:

    The Mayor said just the opposite at the Town Hall meeting Tuesday night. He said that they reviewed their budget numbers and the spending is below the budgeted amount and that he anticipated that there would be an excess of 2mil at the end of the year!!! Many in attendance asked the mayor about the upcoming budget cycle and citizen participation. Citizen participation is limited to calling or writing a council member. The only public participation is at the 2 budget hearings where decisions have already been made. The majority of the budget work is done by the council at their workshops. Public may attend but is not allowed to speak.

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