There will be no sacred cows as Lee County officials look to cut the budget and the services it provides.
County Manager Karen Hawes said today that every service the county provides will be on the table over the next few months as officials prepare for more revenue reductions. Revenue this year dropped by about 24 percent and the county plugged the gap by dipping into reserves to the tune of $70 million.
“We all know we can’t continue to live on savings,” Hawes told nearly 40 members of Business People United for Political Action Committee.
BUPAC is the oldest PAC in Lee County. Thursday was the group’s first meeting since a hiatus during which group leaders say it was refocused on government issues and good government in Lee County.
Hawes said the county is moving in that direction. With population and inflation both up around 13 percent since 2005, she said, county personnel cost has risen just under 21 percent. The sick leave buy-back program has been suspended, as has the bonus program. There were no pay raises this year or last year.
The county will be looking at every way it spends money, Hawes said, including employee benefits. Residents got a little taste of what might be cut a week ago when street lights along some roads were briefly turned off. Commissioners approved the move as part of the 2010 budget, but quickly reversed field when they realized what they’d done.
Hawes took the hit for that, saying she should have made sure commissioners knew what they were voting on. She said county officials will need community guidance as they decide what services to pay for and which ones will fall by the wayside. State law mandates some services and local ordinances require others, she said.
“Then we have what we’ve historically provided but it’s not mandated,” she said. “Now is the time we need to look at whether we’re going to continue that service.”
Hawes held her own with what’s traditionally a feisty group. Urged by budget gadfly Kevin Shea of Lehigh Acres to start cutting now, she asked pointedly what specific services he would have her cut. When he answered everything should be on the table and government bureaucracy should stop feathering its nest, she asked again: “So where do you want me to cut?”
Hawes said all residents will have a chance to weigh in on that question. County department heads will make presentations to commissioners over the next two months, she said, explaining what services they are providing and which ones are mandatory. Those presentations will be posted on the county Web site — www.lee-county.com — and residents surveyed on what they believe “core level services” should be.
“I know you’ve all heard ‘core service level’,” she said. “But when I ask people in the community no one can define that.”