Each commissioner has District Funds which are the funds that are raised in their districts through millage and approved by the board when the budget is passed.
Here is a table prepared by the County Administrator that outlines the funds in 2021:
|District||Millage Rate||Dollar Amount|
To spend the funds, the commissioner files a form with the County Attorney, County Administrator, Office of Management & Budget, and The Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller. This procedure is to make sure that the funds are used for a public benefit for the residents of the district.
For instance, recently Commissioner Jenkins used funds for playground equipment at Zeus Park. Before the funds can be spent, it is required that the commissioner announce the amount and purpose at a commission meeting. There are broad parameters on what projects or organizations the commissioner can spend their funds.
With the introduction of the form outlining where and how the funds are being spent and being sent to those outlined above, there is truly little chance of funds being spent that could result in legal problems to the commissioner or the county. That does not mean, however, that the funds are being spent wisely.
At that last meeting, Commissioner Smith announced that he was going to spend $200,000 of his district funds to add architectural features to the fire station being built on Hutchinson Island. The base bid for building the station was awarded to the lowest contractor at $4,357,000. Once everything is completed, the station will cost substantially more.
A couple of months ago, Commissioner Smith used $37,000 in funds to have a better bar top for the new Sand Dune Café. Commissioner Heard stated at the last meeting that The Sand Dune Café still has not opened because of a shortage of help. (The website states closed on Wednesday because of a shortage of help.) According to the county’s website, the pay for a variety of positions at the Sand Dune Café are between $11-$15 per hour.
Again, there is nothing illegal about spending these funds on either a bar top or architectural features on a fire house. Yet is it appropriate? Could the funds have been better used to buy a needed piece of fire/rescue equipment or supplement the pay scale at the café to attract employees? While the funds are to be used at the discretion of the district commissioner, the funds are taxpayer dollars.
Perhaps there needs to be a policy discussion by the commissioners outlining narrower guidelines for use of these tax dollars. The other thing that should be considered is whether these funds should be carried over year after year or spent in the budget year collected. With a budget of hundreds of millions of dollars, this does not constitute a large dollar item. Yet every tax dollar should be scrutinized and spent wisely.