BROOKSVILLE — The Brooksville City Council inched closer toward finalizing its $6.8 million 2013-14 budget during a public hearing Wednesday night, voting 2-1 to adopt a tentative rollback property tax rate of 6.7317 mills and a fire assessment rate of 0.90 mills.
The new property tax rate amounts to a 2 percent increase over last year's rate of 6.6 mills Essentially frills-free, the proposed budget does include an across-the-board cost-of-living raise for all city employees.
With Vice Mayor Kevin Hohn and council member Joe Johnston III absent, the three council members at the hearing had few quibbles with City Manager Jenenne Norman-Vacha's assessment that financial constraints remain a real concern for city residents and business owners.
Council member Joe Bernardini, who voted against the proposed budget, said he was doing so primarily because the city was proposing to continue charging the $106 flat fee for fire service on vacant property that it levies on improved property.
"I don't think I can support the budget and support (the fire assessment), too," Bernardini said. "We said last year that we were going to look at tweaking it, but we're still doing it."
The city's two-tiered fire assessment — a flat fee plus a property tax — was also a target for some residents of Southern Hill Plantation Club, who said they weren't certain the fee was justified for the service they receive.
Southern Hills resident Bob Hager said he wasn't happy that his property tax bill is 65 percent higher than a comparably priced home in nearby Hernando Oaks that receives its fire service from the county.
Hernando Oaks lies just outside the city limits.
"I don't see where they are less safe than us," Hager said.
One remaining budget issue got unusual agreement from all three council members. Mayor Lara Bradburn, a staunch opponent of fluoridation, said she would not stand in the way of a recommendation to place $10,000 in next year's budget for the possible reintroduction of fluoride to the city's water supply — should council members decide at a later date to resume fluoride treatment.
Bernardini said that although he was still undecided whether he favored reintroducing fluoride, he wanted the money earmarked now so that it would not slow down the budget process.
"I doubt we're going to make a final decision before October or November," he said, "but it doesn't hurt us to plan for it now, just in case," he said.
The final public hearing on the budget is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Sept. 25 at City Hall. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.