Thursday, June 29, 2023

Hillsborough County Blows Through All Its Skyrocketing Growth Revenues, Increases County Bureaucracy by 61%

Guest post by Dr. Jim Davison 

Hillsborough County citizens are well acquainted with this time of year as being the start of hurricane season in Florida. It starts every year on June the 1st. We are given estimates of how many and how intense the storms will be. We are urged to get our homes ready and to prepare in case one of these natural disasters hits the area. All good advice.

Beginning about one month before hurricane season there is another season that starts every year. One that can be costly and deadly to taxpayers and it is man-made. 

It is the “Budget Season” for local municipalities and the County. 

The "Budget Season" is a closely choreographed period-of-time. Like clockwork, the Hillsborough County Administrator Bonnie Wise kicked off the Fiscal Year 2024 season at a BOCC workshop on May 10, 2023. No public comment was allowed.

What did Wise tell the commissioners? More importantly, what did she leave out?

Various economic data was presented giving the impression that ad valorem tax growth will be decreasing and that there is a high probability of a recession coming. 

Slides were presented explaining the County general funds and the challenges contained for future funding. This was followed by slides attempting to represent how the County is doing a great job in holding down the size of county government and that most of the spending is being done for your safety.

Slides were shown proclaiming the usual AAA+ bond rating. Slides were shown claiming the growth in ad valorem revenues would be only 14.5% for FY 24 (well over inflation plus population growth) and the revenues for FY2025 would be “more challenging” increasing only 8.1%.

All those slides led up to the counties favorite budget weapon, the 5-year Proforma. It is a modeling forecast by year of the County’s 2 major property tax/general revenue operating funds - Countywide and Unincorporated Hillsborough. The Pro Forma is based on certain assumptions concerning revenue growth, growth in expenses and the economic outlook. 

Despite property tax revenues over the last 3 years far exceeding the growth assumptions contained in the last 3 Proformas, expenses always rose above the forecasted growth assumptions to wipe out all the revenue growth.

The 2024 Proforma shows a huge surplus of $351 million over the next 5 years in the Countywide operating budget. The Countywide Operating Budget has always showed a surplus since being published as part of the budget process in 2016.

The Unincorporated Operating Budget Proforma is not so lucky. It shows a $141 million dollar deficit in 2028 even thought it too has had revenues that greatly exceeded the assumptions in previous Proforma models. Again, expenses rose to wipe out all the revenue gains.

From May 10, 2023 Budget Workshop

How is this possible especially since they are doing such a good job keeping down the growth of government? 

Has it always been like this?

The answers are: No, they are not containing government growth and No it has not always been like this.


In the FY2017 budget Proforma the Countywide General Fund showed a $170.4 million surplus in FY2021 and the Unincorporated General Fund showed a $145.2 million surplus in FY2021. 

Where did the surplus in the Unincorporated fund go?

It contained the $812 million 10-year Transportation funding policy passed in 2016. In the Proforma for FY2018, then County Administrator Mike Merrill stated there was plenty of money over the next 5 years to fund the transportation policy.

After the now illegal All for Transportation (AFT) sales tax was passed in 2018, the new Democrat majority county commission eliminated the funded 10 year Transportation Plan that used growth of property tax revenues. The County began a wild spending spree in 2019. 

The growth in government expenses is best shown by looking at the “Major Organization Operating Budget” found every year in the Executive Summary section of the budget. Comparing the numbers over multiple budgets shows exactly what happened. 

From FY2020 to FY2023 the County Administrator departments - the Bureaucracy - increased its operating expenses from $1,114.6 million ($1.1B) to $1,793.4 ($1.8B) million. This is a $678.8 million dollar increase or 61% increase and an annual grow rate of 17.2% per year - way over population growth plus inflation.

Elected Officials from the Sheriff to Tax Collector combined operating budgets increased from $551.9 million in FY2020 to $668.5 million in FY2023. That $116,6 million increase is a 21% increase.

The County Administrator increases are even more stark when we compare them to previous growth and growth rates. 

From FY2017 to FY2020 the County Administrator’s operating budget increased $164.2 million dollars or 17% and that was with a couple of years of transportation funding that got eliminated in 2019. 

Even with the AFT sales tax in legal jeopardy, the Democrat majority county commission spent the County's increasing property tax revenues on their wants and pet projects. They negligently and incompetently failed to properly prioritize funding primary responsibilities of local government such as local roads and infrastructure. 

Now Hillsborough County has neither a transportation funding plan nor the AFT sales tax. Instead the county faces bigger expenses with higher inflation, rising labor costs and continuing supply chain issues. 

County Administrator Bonnie Wise is now asking the BOCC to raise all your water and sewer fees already indexed at 4% per year until 2025 for another 10 to 15 years. This will increase the cost of your water coming out of your faucets by almost 100%. Wise wants to raise your solid waste fees $84.72 next year and your Stormwater fees about $5 per year for the next 3 years.  

The County claims these are not huge raises in fees and property tax millage rates have not increased for years. 

However, large property tax increases have hit Hillsborough County property owners. The county commissioners refused to reduce property tax millage rates as property values and property tax general revenues skyrocketed.

As we reported here, commissioners have the most spending discretion with general fund property tax revenues.  Between 2019 and 2023, general fund property tax revenues grew an average of 10.4% per year - well over what was forecasted. 

The county commissioners spent all the growth funds. 

They spent those funds increasing the size and scope of the county bureaucracy by over 60%. They spent those growth funds on art museums, splash pads, butterfly gardens, nonprofits without any accountability, sorority events, fiscally mismanaged HART transit agency, implementation of DEI initiatives into every department of the county, trails, parades, ferry projects, nebulous economic development programs, etc.

And the County refusing to reduce property tax millage rates while spending larger and larger amounts on affordable housing programs is simply duplicitous. 

The County also received nearly $300 Million in COVID funding in 2020 and 2021. 
The end of the County's COVID Emergency should have caused a decrease in the County's operating budget. 

The County planned for the FY2023 budget to have a 9.4% decrease in operating expenses. However, the budget actually adopted for FY2023  increased operating expenses by 19% over what was planned.

We understand the County will ask Hillsborough voters to reauthorize the one-half percent Community Investment Tax (CIT) aka the stadium tax next year. That is a local sales surtax intended to be spent on local roads and infrastructure. 

But the County does not mention how a new CIT tax may impact your water, garbage and stormwater fees. 

Confused? That is the intent of the County bureaucracy. The BOCC has lost control of the County's own budget and are not following their own policies concerning control of the budget. 

Like a hurricane, the County blew through the county's increasing revenues. Hillsborough County has a spending problem not a revenue problem.

It is the Budget Season and time for taxpayers voices to be heard.

The draft budget will be presented to the county commissioners at the July 12, 2023 BOCC meeting where the public may speak in person, virtually or submit a written comment. Or contact or email all the commissioners here.

Tell county commissioners to take back control of the budget, stop the fee increases, roll back at least the county-wide millage rate or make a swap to the unincorporated fund and properly fund local roads.  


Let's have a safe hurricane season and a FAIR Budget season.

Editor's Note: Dr. Jim Davison is a candidate for Hillsborough County commission District 6.

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