Commissioners get earful over budget choices

Brevard County commissioners caught criticism last week from a trio of women who accused them of ignoring the needs of the poor and homeless as they considered County Manager Frank Abbate’s $1.3 billion spending plan for the fiscal year which began Oct. 1.

“It’s shocking to see we no longer care for the poor in our community and that things are as bad as they are,” said Gail Meredith, of Satellite Beach. “And public transportation is a complete joke here.”

Elizabeth Adams, of Titusville, told of people who need the county’s Space Coast Transit Authority buses having to urge strangers to give them rides because there was no bus to meet their emergencies.

Sara Ann Conkling, of Cocoa, pointed to the Community Action Agency budget being cut in half, or by $185,000. She said it could mean 200 families left homeless.

“I’m concerned you five wonderful people, whom I like very much personally, just don’t care enough for the poor and disenfranchised citizens to use public money to care for them,” she said.

The new budget is a 10.25 percent increase from the $1.17 billion budget the commission approved last fall. Half of the increase comes from $60 million in revenue from the half-cent sales tax for Indian River Lagoon cleanup projects.

So the money is there to help, Conkling said. And if commissioners don’t use it to help, she added, it must mean they don’t care to help the vulnerable.

“I want politicians who are willing to do the right thing, even if it means political courage and it costs them re-election to do it,” she said.

Nobody responded to the women’s concerns. Instead, commissioners moved on to approve the budget in a series of 5-0 votes for its various components.

Following the meeting, Chairwoman Rita Pritchett, of Titusville, said the commission is more willing to help people help themselves with jobs than to give people handouts.

She pointed to the county’s success in bringing in Blue Origin, Embreair and other companies, some of which she said will train local jobseekers who don’t have aviation skills to fill their openings.

“We still do a lot of outreach,” she said. “I don’t mind helping people who can’t help themselves. But I don’t want to help people who just won’t help themselves.”

The $1.3 billion budget calls for $148.6 million in property taxes, up from $143.2 million this year.

For the barrier island, the combined tentative tax rates to support the general fund, the Library District, the Mosquito Control District, and the Environmentally Endangered Lands management and debt service add up to about $4.69 for every $1,000 in taxable property value. That’s a 6.2 percent drop from $5 this year.

The typical home on the barrier island is valued at $227,000, according to the county Property Appraiser’s Office. Subtracting $50,000 in homestead exemption, that home would be taxed at $830 to support the five taxing units. That’s a 6.2 percent decrease from $885 the current year.

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