Orange Park council tackles shortfalls created by COVID-19

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ORANGE PARK – The town’s funding sources have taken some hits as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the impact isn’t as large as feared.

The Orange Park Town Council held a special meeting on June 25 to review its budget, projected revenue, funding and more. As is the case with most everything these days, the coronavirus was a main topic of conversation. Some of the town’s proprietary funds have seen shortfalls as a result of the virus, the council learned last week.

“Our projections this year based on all available data we have through May (and) we’re projecting it to come in a little bit over $2 million for water and $2.4 million for sewer so we’re going to have a shortfall,” Orange Park Director of Finance John Villanueva said. “That’s a shortfall of 5.6% and 5.2% respectively.”

Storm and sewer budgets aren’t the only budgets feeling the effects of the virus. Villanueva said the red light camera funds and telecommunication funds are seeing shortfalls as well. The cameras have seen an increase of 53.3% during the last four years of their existence. The camera program expenses for the 2019-20 fiscal year are $361,200. The revenue from the cameras is expected to take a $51,000 dip this fiscal year as a result of the coronavirus, bringing the revenue to about $760,000.

While revenue is expected to be less than expected, the overall revenue from camera tickets still far exceeds the cost of the program to the town. The town’s telecommunication funding comes from telecommunications used within town limits. Things like service provider satellites reside within this revenue stream. Villanueva said that stream has taken a hit and mayor Alan Watt said it could be due to the revenue of telecommunications.

“The revenue of telecommunications is down,” Watt said. “Therefore, our taxes are down.”

With more people at home than usual, it’s likely services like Netflix and other streaming services are seeing upticks in usage within Orange Park. That’s a trend seen around the nation. If Netflix and similar services are being used more in favor of traditional telecommunication services, it makes sense the revenue of telecommunication services are down. If those revenues are down, the town’s revenue from those sources would be down as well, Watt said.

The town council spent the latter third of its meeting discussing ways to fix the areas of the budget that have taken hits as a result of the coronavirus. This conversation comes hot on the heels of upcoming meetings where the town will begin to workshop its 2020-21 fiscal year budget. Town Manager Sarah Campbell said the town is looking into ways to fix those holes without looking at staff cuts or large increases in taxes.

“You know I’m not going to bring you a problematic budget,” Campbell said. “Things like staff cuts are always a possibility but that’s not what I’m going to bring you.”

In other business, the Town of Orange Park is bringing a socially-distanced Fourth of July celebration to the town on Saturday in the form of a vehicle parade. It will begin at 9 a.m. from the bestbet and travel south on River Road before it turns onto Kingsley Avenue. The parade will cross U.S. Highway 17 and continue west until it turns right on Plainfield Avenue.

Vehicles in the parade will disband at the intersection of Plainfield Avenue and Wells Road. Residents can pick up free mini flags at town hall.

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