BROOKSVILLE — With a general fund deficit projected to top $8.3 million, the time has come to "fish or cut bait'' in determining which programs and services will have to go in order to balance Hernando County's 2010-11 budget, says budget office director George Zoettlein.
County Administrator David Hamilton wants the community to have a say in that process. So, as he did last year, he is taking his budget presentation on the road, with the first public information session set for Tuesday in Hernando Beach.
Residents who attend will hear how declining property values have driven down revenue collections to the point where significant spending cuts are needed to balance the budget. In addition, some added costs are threatening to make the gap even larger, including money the commission must set aside to make repairs at the county jail.
This year, for the first time, Zoettlein has coordinated a budget priority system whereby each department director has listed his or her department's tasks based on whether the tasks are mandated by law, mandated by local ordinance, or whether they are "quality of life'' or added-on services.
Those priority lists put services such as libraries, parks and recreation, transportation planning, guardian ad litem and the Little Rock Cannery up for consideration for cuts.
But Zoettlein has said that even items identified as mandated in the budget might be on the chopping block as he works to determine what levels of service are mandated by law. For example, the county must provide parks, but there may be a point when the county doesn't have as many as it has now.
That's where public input is needed.
"I'm hoping that they do come out,'' he said. "People do need to come. This is going to affect their lives.''
A second set of community meetings on the budget will be held in the same locations in August to gather more input as county officials head into the final public hearings.
The budget likely will be approved sometime in September. The 2010-11 budget year begins Oct. 1.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.