Jacksonville Beach tables fiscal plans during COVID uncertainty

Annual budget projections show that Jacksonville Beach is on track to be debt free as of Oct. 1, 2020, which is expected to free up an excess of $4 million for utility projects – $2.5 million for Beaches Energy Services, and $1.5 million for future water and sewer improvements. But the current economic downturn shows a decline in state shared revenue, including sales tax revenues in line with that experienced during the great recession. City Manager Mike Staffopoulos detailed the preliminary bullet points May 11 in a City Council briefing.
“We took a look at what the actual revenue decreases were during the recession and clearly with unemployment rates that we’re seeing, even though they might be on a temporary basis, they are still being experienced as we speak,” he said.
Budget assumptions for the upcoming fiscal year were modeled after the decline during the 2008 recession. Projected utility revenues based on CPI where there is a policy in place to do such remain unchanged and include stormwater, electric, natural gas and sanitation where water and sewer are specifically tied to the CPI index. Transfers will continue into the Capital Projects fund as available to build and maintain reserve for those type of projects.
The projected financial fallout has also forced city officials to put new positions on hold until the economy stabilizes.
“Unfortunately, at this point there are things we’re going to have to put on the back on the back burner. The first one is the chief information officer. We were planning on splitting up the IT Division into its own department,” said Staffopoulos. “The city is getting to the point where it needs to have an IT department that is both robust in its leadership, its philosophy and its proactivity in working with department director  in both enterprise solutions as well as specific solutions to meet their needs and keep us on more of the cutting edge, but unfortunately, we’re going to have to wait on doing that until a later point in time.”
Plans to add a second code enforcement officer have also been tabled indefinitely as staff continues to monitor the fiscal ramifications of the COVID-19 recession. Community aesthetics rated high on the priority list for residential and commercial entities during recent community conversation meetings which prompted staff to consider increasing enforcement resources.
“Right now, code enforcement is acting in reactive mode rather than proactive mode. In order to make that switch to proactive mode, we actually need more resources to do so. This is another one that is going to have to be placed on the back burner. While some people may say the philosophy is that if we collect code enforcement revenue, we could pay for a second code enforcement officer,” noted Staffopoulos.
“I would propose to this council that the intent of code enforcement is not to generate money. The intent is to gain compliance and if you are proactive in your code enforcement when you see an issue, the objective is to gain compliance before you ever have to issue a notice of violation and get them to appear before a special magistrate. While in theory it would work, I would like to think that it would not pay for itself because we would be gaining a lot more compliance.”
A deputy fire marshal position is also effectively frozen though it is still reflected in the city’s pay plan. Steve Sciotto continues to serve in the position, said Staffopoulos.
“I just don’t feel comfortable filling this particular position at this point in time until we understand where we are in at least a six-plus month window of financial revenues being realized and seeing just how bad this recession is going to be and projecting how long it may be.”
A program manager position for the Community Redevelopment Agency included in the budget will remain.
“That one was a little more palatable specifically from the perspective that the CRA is viewed as an enterprise or separate funding source outside of our general revenue,” he said.
In terms of general operating expenses, Staffapolous said department heads were asked to bill their operating expenses flat while continuing to provide the same level of service, and also looking at potential reductions per department.
“We are reserving some of those funds so if there is an economic recovery at some point in 2021, we have the ability to release those funds accordingly,” he said. “If not, we are able to keep those pulled off to the side.”