New budget to help county survive economy longer
By Chris Fish
VIERA - Brevard County Manager Howard Tipton submitted a new budget for the 2013 fiscal year earlier this month that is a 22.3 percent reduction from last year's budget.
"The new budget is about $62 million less than the current budget," Mr. Tipton said. "A lot of that comes from reduction in capital projects. We are just not building anymore."
Along with a decline in capital projects, the new budget will eliminate 15 vacant positions within the county. From 2006 to 2013, the total number of positions cut stands at 452, now placing staffing at 2001 levels.
Mr. Tipton referred to the new budget as one that will help the county "hold on" a little longer through the current economic situation.
"In many ways, it's a 'let's hold on for one more year budget,'" he said. "We are keeping tax rates the same, but we have a backlog on road projects that are approaching a half-billion dollars. We have facility needs that are $10 million dollars that we can't get to."
However, despite the decline in capital projects, Mr. Tipton said the new budget leaves room for advancements in two crucial areas for Brevard County.
"We have an 800 MHz emergency system that is 25 years old. If you think about it, that radio system is built for the population at that time. If you think about how we have grown since that time, we don't have coverage in certain areas."
Kimberly Prosser, director of Brevard County Emergency Management, agreed with the Mr. Tipton on the need for new radio equipment.
"Our current system has been in place for 25 years, during which the county's population has not only grown by about 180,000, but it has also expanded beyond its original footprints," Ms. Prosser said. "There are now lots of people living in areas where there was once nothing but wildlife or cattle."
Mr. Tipton said the replacements and upgrades made to the emergency radio system will cost nearly $15 million and take about three years to complete.
"There are two radio towers, those in Mims and Barefoot Bay that need to be replaced, and two additional towers are needed on beaches in the areas of Cape Canaveral and Indian Harbour Beach," Ms. Prosser said. "Both the Mims and Barefoot Bay towers are currently receiver-only, and they need transmitter/receivers. It is critical that emergency responders be able to communicate with each other, no matter where they are in the county, whether inside a building or out in a remote area."
Ms. Prosser said the new radio systems will be a step towards Project 25, the new standard for interoperability, allowing radios and components from various counties to work on the same system.
"When this enhancement occurs, agencies from outside the county will be able to assist with mutual aid in emergencies, since their radios will be able to talk to ours, and vice versa," she said.
The new budget will also aid mosquito control with the purchase of a new helicopter.
"Brevard County was at one time known as "mosquito county," and we would quickly go back to that if we stopped spraying. We have a fleet of three helicopters. Our helicopters are 44, 23 and 12 years old," Mr. Tipton said. "The 44 and 23 years old ones are showing great signs of wear and tear. The 44 years-old one is actually grounded right now with metal fatigue."
Mr. Tipton said the purchase of a new helicopter is actually cheaper than making the necessary repairs, and the helicopters serve multiple purposes with aiding the county.
"We also use (the helicopters) for firefighting. When we have wildfires, they are used," he said. "There are actually dual purposes they are useful for."
Mr. Tipton said that by keeping taxes the same, it allows the county to remain one of the cheapest places to live within the state.
"We are within the top ten in the state," he said. "We are providing a reasonable quality of life at a very minimal cost. But, it's not sustainable, and that is a challenge we have."