BOCC budget strategic planning workshop focuses on inflation costs

The board wrestles with the impacts of growth while facing current unmet needs, staffing issues and funding challenges.

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Posted February 8, 2023 | By Belea T. Keeney

File photo: County Administrator Mounir Bouyounes speaks during a Capital Improvement Project Workshop in the County Commission auditorium at the McPherson Governmental Complex in Ocala on March 21. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2022.

The Marion County Board of County Commissioners received presentations from county staff about various budget projections and projects in the pipeline with a focus on emergency services, traffic and roadway needs and a general review of development in its Jan. 30 workshop meeting. No items were voted on, and the board discussed issues and raised questions about Marion County’s growth and current needs.

County projects discussed

County Administrator Mounir Bouyounes began the presentations with information about various programs and projects. The issues discussed ranged from a planned new Animal Services facility to the status of the county’s 1.5% sales tax, which will expire at the end of 2023. Bouyounes said the board must follow a timeline if they want to renew it.

Current traffic congestion and the lack of road capacity were used repeatedly to argue against many new development proposals in Marion County last year, and the topic was at the top of the board’s list once again.

Bouyounes said transportation impact fees, which can be used to offset the road problems new developments create, “are due for an update to re-evaluate the impact fees, reflect on the construction costs we are dealing with nowadays and bring the update back to the board,” for consideration and potential revisions. The impact fee study will take “six to eight months,” he said.

Bouyounes also spoke about a potential employee  clinic that would help with health care costs. He said the county’s self-insurance program currently spends about $6.5 million a year on prescription drug costs for employees, and a new clinic would help with that expense, he stated. A detailed presentation on this matter is slated for the board in late February.

The Solid Waste master plan was reviewed as well. A property east of Baseline Road, across from the current landfill is available, Bouyounes said, and the owner is interested in making a deal with the county to buy it. Due diligence is in progress for the parcel and potential purchase, he said.

The Salvation Army is no longer willing to provide probation services to the county, and research into handling these with a contractor, or in-house, possibly through the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, was discussed. Once an official notice is received from the Salvation Army, the county has six months to implement an alternative solution. County staff is researching options now.

Budget Director Audrey Fowler stated that inflation is “this year’s theme” of all her budget processes, which requires a “market adjustment” of county budget items. Also impacting the county budget, she said, is the rise in minimum wage, lingering COVID-19 impacts, and the population growth in Marion County of both retirees and working families.

Some projects generated more extended discussion between county staff and the commissioners. One of them was the Chatmire Sewage Project, north of Dunnellon, for which the county has received a state grant of $1.7 million to build sewage and road systems in the neighborhood; another $300,000 would have to be funded by the county.

Commissioners Jeff Gold and Michelle Stone both spoke up about the problems associated with gentrification, especially in that area. Gold said many of those properties are passed down generationally. Once the improvements are made, the area changes, and both Stone and Gold expressed concerns that gentrification causes issues. A neighborhood can “lose its history,” Stone said.

Impact fees generate much discussion

Fire impact fees also generated discussion, with Stone raising questions about fire services costs, volunteer stations, and the need for future services. “There is another elected board right now that’s been criticized by not looking at impact fees for a very long time,’’ she said, referring to the Marion County School Board, which is awaiting the results of two transportation impact fee studies. “I don’t want to get any further down the road and somebody say that we were not taking care of what we should be doing.”

The board agreed to have county staff provide more information for more detailed talks in the future.

Additionally, the board also questioned staff and discussed extensively the new EMS building, designed to be a central hub for all emergency services which serve both City of Ocala and county emergency services calls. The  lease on the current facility expires in 12 months, and the board expressed the pressure felt by all to keep up with population growth and emergency needs. One topic that arose was the future need for two more fire stations near On Top of the World: one on 80th Avenue, north of West Port High School, and one to the west of current development, which butts up against SW 110th Avenue.

A new campground at the Southeastern Livestock Pavilion is in the works with 66 new RV sites that include electrical hookups and internet access. Being able to rent out sites to non-SELP travelers would offset some of the costs, said county staff. That project was on the BOCC agenda for its Feb. 7 meeting.

Another project reviewed was the remodel of the BOCC Auditorium, where many board meetings take place, and the expansion of administration offices at the McPherson Governmental Complex. Bouyounes suggested the board consider expansion now instead of doing “patchwork of aging facilities” that would not benefit the various departments in the long term.

Road projects and development’s impact on traffic

Assistant County Administrator Tracy Straub reviewed traffic and roadway projects, an ongoing issue in Marion County with level of services issues being affected by new development. A language change in the Land Development Code that allows for funding for road projects when a road is at 80% of a level D service, is needed, Straub said. Once a road is already past a certain  level of service, new developers are not required to contribute to road improvements. Commissioners expressed a desire to know when C level roads reach 80% service.

“For those Ds and high Ds,” referring to already congested roadways, Commissioner Carl Zalak explained, “it’s pretty miserable to drive in.”

The information currently available with traffic counts is from 2021; 2022 figures will come out in “March or April,” according to County Engineer Elton Holland. Currently, the failing road intersections listed were: Maricamp at Baseline Road; County Road 484 at Interstate 75; County Road 484 in downtown Dunnellon; SE 110th Street; and SE 44th Avenue.

“We are certainly not collecting (impact fees from developers) at the maximum rate,” Straub stated. An impact fee study is slated, and a special traffic study focused on the State Road 200 area is in progress.

Stone wrapped up the Future Visioning discussion stating, “This is one of the most experienced boards we’ve ever had,” and she expressed hope that their decisions would have future positive impact on the community. Additional workshops are probably needed, the board concluded, especially one focused on transportation and one for a revised Land Development Code that includes discussion on buffers. Bouyounes will provide a list of action items for the board to review.

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