The Board of County Commissioners last week began to total up the damage to its budget done by Hurricane Michael.

It figures to be a process that will play out for several years.

The board approved recommendations to cut budgets across the board, while avoiding, at least for now, having to lay off any employees.

County Administrator Michael Hammond said under current estimates and operation levels the county would be looking at a $3.2 million deficit when the next fiscal year begins October 2019.

Crunching numbers along with the Property Appraiser Mitch Burke, the estimates are that the value of the mill took a 20 percent deduction due to property loss during the storm and non ad valorem revenues, revenues other than property taxes, will take a 10 percent hit.

EMS operations, which normally operate at a deficit, though far less than five years ago, will likely see a significant reduction in revenue.

The local nursing home, representing nearly 80 percent of EMS transports, is out of business for the foreseeable future, and Mexico Beach, with which the county has an operating agreement, is “devastated,” Hammond said.

On the flip side, though, with the two Bay County hospitals either closed or operating without many services, Sacred Heart Hospital on the Gulf without some services, transports out of the county are longer.

Patients must be transported to Destin or Tallahassee, said EMS director Houston Whitfield, turning trips that might take two hours into four and five hours excursions.

In the short-term, Hammond recommended and the board supported a 4 percent reduction across the board for all constitutional officers and department heads.

The only exception would be the Florida Department of Health in Gulf County.

Additionally, all spending to outside agencies, the libraries, humane society, etc., will be cut by 10 percent across the board.

“We believe this is the prudent way to cut the budget,” Hammond said. “We do not anticipate having to lay off employees at this time, though we will not fill empty positions.”

Hammond said the immediate cuts would save about $800,000.

In addition, Commissioner David Rich said the county should halt all unnecessary travel.

“Everyone is going to have to tighten our belts,” said Commissioner Ward McDaniel. “We need to make these sacrifices so we can get through this.

 

Infrastructure

Building official Lee Collingsworth said of the 218 county-owned structures, 75 percent sustained damage, some worse than others.

As insurance dollars come into the county, Collingsworth said, staff will list and prioritize renovation projects.

The most pressing building issue is the historic Wewahitchka Courthouse, which Hammond said “is in horrible condition.”

There is water in the basement where electrical panels are located; the building is unsafe and already plagued by mold.

The transfer of the lease to a non-profit which would aim to restore the building has not happened, so Hammond recommended the existing lease with North Florida Child Development, which uses the building as a headquarters for its multi-county operations, be terminated.

The county would cut the power and cordon off the building.

Hammond continued by saying the county should offer to transfer the building to the non-profit when it is up and running and ready to take possession.

Beyond that, however, leave the building as is for now.

“It is not a priority for the county,” Hammond said, adding the courthouse is not a revenue source for the county and its closure would not impact county services.

The county will also move ahead in junking eight vehicles destroyed by the storm.