Hillsborough County budget hearing tame despite cuts
Maybe it's a reflection that the public realizes and expects local government to cut spending, with property tax revenues down sharply.
Few people turned out for the first of two final public hearings Wednesday on Hillsborough County's budget proposal for next year despite revenue declines of $73 million forcing cutbacks, particularly to non-profit groups. Only a half dozen people showed up to urge commissioners to spare pet programs.
Commissioners learned that they'll be able to absorb a state mandate for criminal background checks of certain volunteers that threatened to cost Meals on Wheels as much as $25,000 to carry out. The county has purchased equipment that will allow it to perform background checks at a lower cost than previously expected.
The board also heard from advocates for agricultural cooperative extension and Catholic Charities' Mercy House, which provides housing and services for women and children who are HIV positive. Each are facing cuts and commissioners asked county administration to see if there are ways to spare both.
Commissioners voted 6-0 to tentatively approve the $3.5 billion spending plan. It's predicated on lowering the county's overall millage from 10.7614 mills to 10.7598, a small amount but one that would allow commissioners to claim they have lowered the property tax rate for 18 consecutive years.
Due to declining property values, the county's budget represents about a 12 percent cut in property taxes based on how the state defines whether local governments have increased or lowered taxes.
A final public hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. Sept. 23 at County Center.
-- Bill Varian, Times staff writer