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Brooksville cheers modest financial progress

BROOKSVILLE — After five years under a dark financial cloud, could the city of Brooksville at last be seeing some sunshine?

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Figures presented last week to members of the City Council showed gains from several revenue streams for the fourth quarter of 2012, along with a slight decrease in expenditures. Coupled together, the numbers create a somewhat positive picture as the city begins to put together its budget for 2013-14, said City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha.

"I'd say we're cautiously optimistic," Norman-Vacha said of the trend. "Property taxes and sales taxes are in line with or above what we normally see. Also, we've been able to either eliminate or lessen some expenses. Anytime you can do both things, it's a good sign."

A report for the first quarter of the 2012-13 fiscal year, presented to the City Council during a workshop last week, showed a modest revenue gain of about $73,000 over the same period during 2011-12. And while that figure may not seem impressive, Norman-Vacha said it's a big turnaround from two years earlier, when the city saw an $180,000 revenue deficit.

However, there are still unanswered questions when it comes to how the city will deal with its 2013-14 budget. County property tax revenue estimates won't be finalized until June, and that information, Norman-Vacha said, will likely play a major role in determining the course of the City Council's budget decisions.

But for now, early indications are that the heavy fiscal bleeding of the past three years has slowed, and Norman-Vacha doesn't think her office will be forced to make the kind of massive cuts needed the past three years to balance the city's budget, which this year totals $6.53 million.

With 30 fewer employees than it had in 2006, the city has saved about $1 million each year. And by reducing other day-to-day operating expenses, and taking recent actions such as restructuring several sewer bonds — a move that saved more $700,000 in interest payments — the city has a little more financial breathing room, said Brooksville Mayor Lara Bradburn.

"We've done things that the county probably wish it had," Bradburn said. "By working smarter at making less do more we now have the lowest operating budget in six years and without a loss in quality of services."

Bradburn said that dollar-stretching will likely remain the city's financial mantra for some time to come, and is essential if the city is going to tackle long-neglected infrastructure needs.

"A lot of cities have had to put those kinds of things on the back burner," Bradburn said. "In my opinion, doing that only leaves a bigger problem for others to have to deal with later on."

In fact, a City Council workshop scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday will focus on the city's newly completed pavement management study, which surveyed the condition of streets, sidewalks and curbing throughout Brooksville. Most council members say they would favor a plan that would apply a portion of the city's red-light camera revenue toward jump-starting road restoration.

"It's a good investment," Bradburn said. "Every penny we spend wisely now gives us an advantage for what we have to deal with in the future."

Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1435.

Brooksville cheers modest financial progress 03/02/13 [Last modified: Saturday, March 2, 2013 12:04pm]
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