CE Neuhaus Presents Encouraging Budget Address
However, Unfunded State Mandates Cause Concern
Orange County Executive Steven M. Neuhaus released an $816 million operating budget for fiscal year 2020 on Wednesday. The County tax rate will be $3.73, which is lower than it was both last year and in 2014. “We have grown our fund balance back to where it needs to be, settled labor contracts, repaired roads and bridges, and invested in our parks,” Neuhaus said. Investment in tourism programs have resulted in a whopping $1 Billion in spending by visitors, and generated $91.5 million in local taxes last year in Orange County and $56.7 million in state taxes.
The County’s unassigned fund balance has increased to $56.7 million, which is an increase of $6.4 million from last year. It has more than doubled since Neuhaus took office, and is back to State recommended levels. Moody’s Investors Service, the financial services ratings company, upgraded Orange County’s bond rating to Aa2 with a stable outlook.
Of particular concern are anticipated increases in unfunded mandates by the state, especially those related to criminal processing which Neuhaus said are expected to make a huge impact both on DA Hoovler’s office and local police departments. He added “In the Navy we refer to these …….as gift grenades”. Farmers, he said, are also taking a big hit, due to price fixing and minimum wage requirements. The potential of a slowdown in the economy is concerning as well, but Neuhaus believes that if one occurs the county is well prepared given the safety nets it has grown, adding “Whatever it is, let me take the hits. I will ‘keep the door open’ and if the DA has problems we will work together and get it done.”
Additional program plans include a camera program that will improve school bus safety, a new RAV and SOS Rapid Response program for emergencies, and plans to ask the IDA (Industrial Development Agency) to institute more clear procedures, better disclosure and give more back to the community toward the public good in the way of recreation and open space.
The speech included several entertaining analogies to his Navy experiences, especially since this was his first countywide speech since returning from deployment. In summary he said that last year he took some ‘flack’ (sic) for comparing the improvement in county finances to turning around a huge airplane, saying that they had started improvement, but it takes time to turn such a big machine around. This time he showed a screen with a whole fleet of Navy ships and said “Now we are full speed ahead.”