The city of Marianna has suspended its optional funding for all outside organizations in the coming budget year, including Jackson County Development Council, which was receiving the lion’s share of such contributions at roughly $73,000 a year.
The other organizations, about a dozen, were together getting roughly $35,000 from the city, collectively.
City Manager Jim Dean had made the recommendations to Marianna City Commissioners in carrying out his obligation to present the board a balanced budget for consideration. The only non-essential funding left intact was the city scholarship program for graduating seniors.
Dean said this week that the decision, made at a late-July budget workshop, should not be viewed in any way as a negative statement on the merits of any entity left out of the city’s budget. He said it was, instead, a decision based on simple math as the city tries to recover from the funding devastation that Hurricane Michael left it its wake.
He explained those challenges.
“October 10, 2018, changed everybody’s life. It changed the city’s life, too,” he said. “We lost a number of revenue streams that we’d previously had; there’s a number of businesses that aren’t open at this time; we’re down about 120 business and residential water connections. Also the property appraiser has assessed the values of properties in the city of Marianna, and right now there’s a $20 million reduction in values in the city of Marianna.
“We’re facing some budgetary challenges because of the hurricane. The federal prison is probably going to be essentially shut down through February or March of next year,” Dean continued. “That’s a very big customer for our water, sewer, and gas, and we also get a franchise fee (6 percent) on its electric services. We’re down 100-plus residential customers and there are businesses out of play.”
There’s also the fact, he said, that the city must pay upfront for many hurricane-related repairs to city property that, while at least the majority of those costs are expected to be reimbursed by federal sources, there’s no guarantee on when that would occur. It might be, he pointed out, eight months, 20 months, or even further out in the future.
He also pointed out that employees are taking a hit this budget year—no raises are in store for them, Dean said.
Dean said that while there’s optimism that the funding shortage is temporary, as businesses and residents get back on their feet, it’s likely that the worst effects could persist for a year or 18 months. The city is not in a position to keep funding outside entities as it faces down those months of shortfalls in general revenue dollars.
The difficult choice secures approximately $108,000 for general revenue that traditionally goes to the entities.
With JCDC taking the biggest dollar impact in the city’s decision, JCDC Executive Director Bill Stanton says that, while it’s not a happy circumstance, it’s one he understands and one that the organization can manage.
”Not only do I understand it, I support it,” Stanton said. “Suspending all outside organizational funding, and any other way they need to cut back in this financial crisis, those are prudent things to do. It’s something they need to run like a big business, and this is something that prudent businesses would do.
“I’ve run JCDC for 21 years, and it that time JCDC has spent and saved wisely. Right now we have a half-million dollars in cash reserves and a net worth of a million dollars. We can deal with this. If it were to go on for years, then, yes it could become an issue. But this just spurs us on to work that much harder to get more return on the investment that the community has made in this organization. We’re committed and we will go on with our mission to bring more businesses here to build up the local economy.”
The organization was cut from county funding last year with the startup of the new county-created Jackson County Economic Development Committee. Since then, Stanton pointed out, JCDC has continued to work on behalf of the community and, Stanton says, helped bring Catalyst Fabric Solutions and Ruan Transportation to the area in the time that has passed since county funding was cut and redirected to the new organization.
Stanton went on to say that, to his knowledge, there’s been no discussion by the JCDC Board of Directors about any staffing changes for his office, which now operates with just Stanton and one staffer.