BROOKSVILLE — Freshly elected and ready-to-be-sworn-in, James Adkins and John Druzbick went through a crash course Thursday morning on just how Hernando County government operates.
One by one, for more than three hours, various department heads trooped to a microphone and tried, in five minutes or less each, to explain just what it is they do, how much money they get and how they spend it.
Adkins and Druzbick asked loads of questions, many of which focused on the same cut-government-spending issues they had used in their respective campaigns leading to their election last week. The two will be sworn in at Tuesday's commission meeting.
County Administrator David Hamilton explained that the session would help the newcomers learn the complexities of the county operation while department heads might learn something themselves about other county divisions.
With the faltering economy, dwindling staff and revenue cuts overhanging all of government, Hamilton had budget director George Zoettlein kick off the presentations.
Zoettlein explained that the county expects to use reserves to make up a $2-million shortfall foreseen in the 2009-2010 budget. He also showed that county government had shrunk from 1,012 workers to 933. The elected constitutional officers, he noted, had reduced their staffs from a combined 528 to 525.
For their part, the constitutional officers were largely no-shows at the session, despite being invited. Property Appraiser Alvin Mazourek was the only one to send staffers to explain his office's responsibilities.
As a cost-savings reorganization, Hamilton has been trying to centralize common government services and to get all of the top county officials, including Clerk of the Circuit Court Karen Nicolai and Sheriff Richard Nugent, together into a leadership team.
There has been some friction in recent days from certain officials as they work through the intricacies of Hamilton's reorganization scheme.
So, did the officials' snub of Hamilton's meeting send him a message?
"Not one that I've received,'' he replied. "All we could do was invite them.''
Zoettlein, meanwhile, went on to explain that the county makes its budgets two years at a time, which gives officials a leg up on planning the next year's spending much earlier. They also use the zero-based budgeting technique that requires each department to justify everything it spends each year.
Druzbick had questions about property appraisals, bidding, airport industrial park development and cooperation between various government entities.
Adkins questioned where departments got their revenue. When Michael McHugh, business development director, said he was trying to recruit 25 businesses to the county, Adkins asked, "Is there anything else Hernando County can do to seal the deals?''
McHugh said he would not be shy about asking commissioners for help, but the big hurdle is the overall economy. Even businesses that are healthy financially can't get loans for equipment or financing. He said he didn't know how Hernando County could fix that.
Druzbick wanted to know what else the county could do to get people to bring their businesses to the Enterprise Zone in south Brooksville.
The county just approved a new incentive that would pay businesses for creating jobs in that zone, which might be more attractive than the narrow tax incentives offered by the state in its enterprise zones, McHugh said.
He also said that Hamilton's more "holistic'' approach to helping south Brooksville through his community initiatives team might also provide more help for that area.
Hamilton closed the session by warning everyone that the $2-million budget shortfall the county expects to face in 2009 is likely an optimistic figure.
Rumblings that he is hearing from Tallahassee warn of much deeper cuts in state funding, which will mean even more money will have to be cut from Hernando's budget.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.
$2 -million shortfall expected in the 2009-2010 county budget
933 Number of county government workers, which is down from 1,012