By the numbers
Collier County budget by the numbers
■ $878.3 million fiscal 2013-14 proposed budget; $696.8 million of which goes toward operating costs
■ 14.5 additional full-time positions, for a total of 3,313 full-time positions
■ 3.58 percent expected increase in property values
■ $61.3 million for capital transportation projects, including $3.5 million for intersection enhancements and $2.8 million for road improvements
■ $17.4 million for parks and recreation projects, including $250,000 to complete the Eagle Lake Community Center
■ $75,000 to construct a community center at Immokalee South Park; and $20,000 for a Coconut Circle playground
■ $91.2 million for county water and sewer projects
■ 29 percent decrease in general governmental debt service because of debt repayment
■ 1,387 full-time positions at the Collier County Sheriff’s Office; 980 of which are law enforcement officers
Source: Collier County’s proposed fiscal 2013-14 budget
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NAPLES — There may be more money in the budget for next year, but don’t expect Collier County officials to go on a spending spree.
Instead, Collier officials said they plan to methodically sift through the more than $878 million budget in the coming days to make sure frivolous projects are left at the door.
“The biggest mistake we can make is to assume we have lots of money and spend it,” Commissioner Fred Coyle said. “I want to be cautious as we consider the new budget so that we’re not getting overly optimistic. There could always be another economic bump in the road.”
Collier County staff on Monday released a proposed fiscal 2013-14 budget. The proposed $878.3 million spending plan — $696.9 million of which is dedicated to operating expenses — would be balanced using the current tax rate. That base rate — $3.56 per $1,000 of taxable property value — has been in place since 2010.
The proposed budget provides more full-time positions than previous years, addresses maintenance that has been long put off and puts about $4 million in reserves for a rainy day. But despite an anticipated boost in revenues, officials said they hope to have a lean budget come Oct. 1.
“It’s not at all large and I think it’s a very conservative budget,” Commissioner Donna Fiala said. “We never go too outrageous in our budgeting. We’re far more conservative. If we budget very low and we have a few bucks extra left, great.”
Staffing levels on the uptick
The county’s workforce is growing, but don’t expect a spurt.
According to the proposed budget, county government anticipates it will have 3,313 full-time positions in fiscal 2013-14. That’s 14 more full-time positions than currently are in the budget, and 32 more than were in the budget adopted in September 2012.
Mike Sheffield, a county government spokesman, said commissioners earlier this year approved adding 23 positions. Three of those positions were in the county’s tourism department, with the remaining 20 in the building department.
“These position increases are to support marketing the Naples destination and to support our building industry partners and customers,” Sheffield said in an email to the Daily News.
Nick Casalanguida, the county’s growth management administrator, said while the county staff is filling positions in the building department, the cost of those hires doesn’t come out of the main operating fund.
Instead, he said, the building department is paid for through an enterprise fund, or an independent account separate from the main operating budget.
The county staff went through layoffs in the early years of the economic downturn, and Coyle said the decision to start adding positions in the building department shows the area is making an economic comeback.
“The layoffs were generally the result of decreased building permit reviews. Now, we’re experiencing a resurgence,” he said. “We have to have the staff to consider those. We don’t want to be the reason for people not to be able to create jobs.”
While county government may be slowly rehiring, staffing levels still are down. The county, according to the proposed budget, had 3,739 employees in 2009.
Brick and mortar projects
After years on East Naples residents’ wish list, Eagle Lakes Community Park will get a community center in 2013-14.
Barry Williams, the county’s parks and recreation director, said the county expects to begin construction on the community center in the fall. That project, Williams said, has been a top priority for county officials and locals alike.
“We’ve needed to finish the park for many years,” Williams said. “The recession has kind of held us back, but we continued to focus our efforts there.”
Once completed, the community center will be about 10,000 square feet and include a fitness center, meeting room and classrooms for everything from exercise to voluntary prekindergarten classes.
Fiala, a longtime proponent of the community center in the park off U.S. 41 East near Lely Resort, said she is thrilled to finally see the project come together.
But it isn’t the only community center popping up in Collier County. Williams said county government is also building a community center at the Immokalee South Park, located near the Seminole Casino in Immokalee.
That project, he said, will replace a modular building that once stood on the property.
“The community center is needed,” he said. “It was a drop-in center for them. We see this as a great opportunity.”
Long-awaited maintenance begins
The parks need new playgrounds. County government’s fleet needs improvement. Some roads need a little love.
Collier officials said they knew the time would come for the county staff to start addressing the maintenance they’ve deferred over the years, and many departments are asking for money to do just that.
But some commissioners said they aren’t ready to sign off on a project just because someone would like a new vehicle or thinks a road needs repaved.
“I think what we need to do is consider things on a case-by-case basis,” Coyle said. “We can’t do these things in accordance with some schedule that may not reflect reality.”
Casalanguida said the biggest challenge for county government in the next few years is replacing the stormwater system in Golden Gate. That likely will be a $15 million to $18 million project, so money for it could be put aside beginning next year.
While projects have been delayed, Casalanguida said, no project that affects the “health, safety and welfare” of Collier residents has been put off.
“We’re in good shape,” he said. “The strong message is we’ve maintained all critical (projects).”
Williams also has money in his budget for maintenance, such as replacing playground equipment that may not be in the best shape. But Williams said residents shouldn’t be afraid to play at the county’s playgrounds.
“With the recession and cutbacks, we haven’t been able to replace and repair as much as we’d like,” he said. “We’re trying to get more use (out of it), and it has been maintained, inspected and it’s safe.”
Commissioner Tim Nance, who is preparing for his first budget workshop since elected, said even with a bit more tax money than in previous years — the county expects to see a 3.5 percent increase in property values that could increase tax collections — he’s hopeful county staff will be mindful of continued budget constraints.
“These are challenging times,” he said.