ONE MORE TIME WITH FEELING It takes $674 million to run Escambia County. That total includes the 2010-2011 budgets for the City of Pensacola, Escambia County and the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority. I didn’t include the Town of Century’s budget because I think it’s run on the fees from the collection of recycled aluminum cans.
If we add in the $328 million budget of the Escambia County Public School District, the cost jumps over $1 billion. According to the 2009 U.S. Census estimates, Escambia County has 303,343 people, which means the cost to educate, protect and serve our citizens is $3,302 per person.
The cost of local government has shrunk for every entity since 2007. Escambia County is operating on $39.8 million less, the City of Pensacola on $44.5 million less and the School District on $66 million less. The efforts of Gov. Charlie Crist, Florida Legislature and Escambia County TaxWatch to force local governments to operate on less ad valorem revenues have been successful. Local government has been reduced by 15 percent over the past four years.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that tax revenues are projected to continue to shrink, too. The fat has been trimmed, so the next series of budget cuts will be much more painful. Local governments will have to decide what truly defines essential services.
The county, city, utility and school bureaucracies will be forced to consolidate functions and services. How many central garages do we need? How many different computer systems and IT departments are necessary? How many Human Resources and Purchasing departments are required?
Escambia County has started its own in-house clinic for its employees. The City of Pensacola has had one for years. School Board member Jeff Bergosh brought the concept to the School Board at a November 2010 workshop. Could these clinics be combined? Or better yet, why not privatize it and let Baptist Hospital, Sacred Heart Hospital and West Florida Hospital bid on providing the health care?
The City’s Sanitation Department and the County’s Perdido Landfill are two examples of departments that should be merged into ECUA. The functions need to be under one entity. The dispatch services are another.
Functional consolidation is how we can deal with the forecasted reductions in tax revenues. It must happen. Officials have to drop their egos, remove the imaginary boundaries and figure out how they can reduce the cost of government another $20 million over the next five years.
There isn’t one elected official in this county that doesn’t endorse the concept, but no one will take the lead and force it to happen. No, it’s easier to point fingers and tell how another entity can merge into their operations. No one wants to give up control or lay off people.
It’s time for a functional consolidation task force to be formed that can independently examine how to make it happen and make recommendations that can be enacted over the next few years. There has to be give and take from all entities.
Local governments are being reshaped as revenues decline. Will we be proactive in how they are reshaped or will we simply react on a year-to-year basis?