by: Max Royle ~ City of St. Augustine Beach

It’s that time when city and county elected officials throughout Florida do a public review of their proposed budget for the next fiscal year, 2020, which will begin October 1, 2019, and end September 30, 2020.

Seemingly eternal to the annual review is the demand by some residents that local governments trim the “fat” from their budget and thereby lower taxes. A worthy goal and yet: What’s the definition of “fat”?

A logical definition might be that budgetary fat is whatever expenditures residents believe are unnecessary. Yet, one man’s (or woman’s) un-necessity may be someone else’s must-have. For example, are the following unnecessary: competitive pay and benefits that enable the city to attract and retain employees in a tight labor market?

The training and other activities that the Police Department must do to meet standards and remain an accredited law enforcement agency? The purchase of a $250,000 sanitation truck to replace a 15-year-old vehicle that is subject to breakdowns that will cause interruptions to the removal of residents’ solid waste on a regular schedule? Up-to-date computers to replace obsolete ones, so that the spending of the public’s money can be accurately tracked?

Or, does the definition of “unnecessary” include those proposed expenditures in the budget that some residents might say are of the “nice to have” rather than the “must have” category?

Examples could include the mutt mitt boxes with disposable plastic bags for pet owners to use, the mechanical sweeping once a month of sand and debris from A1A Beach Boulevard, and the various beautification and tree planting projects that improve the city’s appearance.

Does the definition of what’s necessary depend on the quality of life the residents want and how that quality is defined? If they think prompt responses to code violations, noise complaints and missed trash pickups by city personnel aren’t necessary, then maybe the city could get by with fewer employees. If the residents believe the New Year’s Eve fireworks show detracts from the city’s quality of life, they can ask the City Commission to delete money for the event from the budget.

The basic problem is that there is no one definition of “necessary” and “quality of life” and thus no way for the Commission to approve a budget that will match everyone’s definition.

Ultimately, as elected representatives of the residents, the Commissioners themselves must make such interpretations. There is of course opportunity for the residents to review the budget online, attend meetings to state their opinions about what should or should not be in it, or send their opinions by email to the Commissioners.

City taxpayers are invited to a public hearing on the proposed budget on Monday, September 9th, 6 p.m. at city hall. Please plan to attend, or send an email, and tell the Commission whether you think the budget needs some “fat” trimming here and there. Or, you may want a project or something else added to it. The budget can be seen on the City’s website at staugbch.com.