Early budget shows little wiggle room

Matt Algarin

When city leaders begin the 2015 budget cycle, there isn’t much wiggle room or funds to spend on extras.

“Based on the budget we have before you, there is no funding left in any department for any new services,” City Manager Maryann Ustick told the council during Monday night’s budget workshop at the city hall annex. “Probably the major challenge Destin faces is finding that critical balance of new projects that help move the city forward… and making improvements to infrastructure.”

Looking at the highlights of the proposed fiscal year 2015 budget, city leaders saw an increase in their general fund revenue of 2.53 percent ($251,396) and a 5.37 percent increase in property values from $3,825,157, 236 to $4,030,635,340.

And while revenue in the general fund has increase, so has the expenditures, jumping up 3.02 percent ($279,843).

One of the biggest increases to the city’s budget is their contract with the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office that provides the service of additional deputies in Destin. The new contract will see a 25.3 percent increase ($301,762), which brings the total contract amount to $1,496,562.

As Sheriff Larry Ashley made his way to the podium Monday night, Councilwoman Sandy Trammell joked, saying “I hope he’s feeling guilty and going to give us the money back.”

Although he wasn’t giving the city money back, Ashley said the two sides worked hand-in-hand to come to terms they could agree upon.

“We’re not putting billboards up saying we can’t afford to come here,” he said. “I want to provide the best service to the city of Destin that we can provide.”

The city is looking at a little more than $900,000 in funding for capital project, most of which comes from the gas tax, grant partnerships and impact fees. Projects to be funded include the Hutchinson Street reconstruction ($392,572), Calhoun Avenue Phase I ($300,000), stormwater improvements in Indian Bayou ($125,000), technology upgrades ($50,000), and drainage improvements in Heritage Run ($35,000).

Looking at the numbers, Councilman Jim Wood told his colleagues they would have to be very mindful of their spending in the upcoming year.

“I’m a little concerned about revenue, overall,” he said. “We are increasing our sheriff’s budget; if the transit co-op works, we are probably going to have to fund that.”

“In a city with a limited budget, you have to stick to your plans as best as possible,” he said. “Destin is not a revenue-rich city.”

Two revenue-generating options that were discussed Monday night were changes to the city’s passes at Joe’s Bayou and Henderson Beach State Park. Currently the city funds the cost of these passes, which are available to homesteaded residents in Destin.

If approved at a later date, the city would re-instate the $30 annual fee for the Joe’s Bayou boat launch, as well as charging either a $20 or $30 annual fee for a pass to Henderson Beach State Park.

The majority of the council was in favor of this proposed option.

“When you look at those things, we have to remember most municipalities would be raising their millage rate to cover that, and we didn’t,” Trammell said. “Somehow we have to make ends meet.”

“They pay for themselves the first couple of times you use them,” Councilman Cyron Marler added.

Since Monday’s meeting was a workshop, no votes were taken. City leaders will next talk about the proposed budget during their Sept. 3 City Council meeting.