BROOKSVILLE — Back in February, Brooksville City Manager Jenenne Norman-Vacha sounded a warning to City Council members to brace for what she called "the new norm" when it came to considering the city's 2012-13 budget.
The continued drop in property tax revenues meant only one thing, she said: a bare-bones approach allowing only for essentials, plus the probability that officials might have to dig deeper into taxpayers' pockets in order to pay for core services.
That probability took a step toward reality at a budget workshop this week when council members approved a tentative property tax rate of 7.5 mills, which would allow the city to balance its budget. The rate is 17.7 percent higher than the 6.37 mills residents have paid the past two years.
If ultimately passed, the increase would generate roughly $2.8 million in revenue, or $431,079 more than last year's rate, and help close the gap created by falling property values. The owner of a home with a taxable value of $100,000 would pay $750 to the city, $113 more than the $637 paid last year.
However, there is still another variable in play, leaving it uncertain for several more weeks what the city's final tax rate will be.
Revenues generated from a fire assessment approved last month by the council could generate up to $600,000 for fire services. That measure, which is currently under a 30-day appeal period in Hernando County Circuit Court, could allow the city lower the tax rate to 6.58 mills — an increase of .2134 mills.
Norman-Vacha told council members that answers to the city’s budget woes no longer come down to just trimming staff, programs and services. Despite a $1.1 million reduction in expenditures over the past five years, the city hasn’t been able to outpace a 49 percent loss in taxable value over the past four years. In addition, income generated from electric franchise fees, communications taxes and local-option gas taxes has fallen drastically.
Council members spent much of their meeting Tuesday night discussing what could be done to lessen the burden on taxpayers, including refinancing the city's debt service, switching city-administered fire and police pensions to a state-run system, and the possibility of merging the city's fire service with that of the county.
Vice Mayor Lara Bradburn cautioned council members that simply looking for short-term savings could have long-term effects on the city's future plans. She said the city's lack of an effective pavement, sidewalk and sewer management program had probably cost taxpayers more in the long run than they have saved.
"No planning was done for 20 years," Bradburn said. "It's been a huge hassle trying to play catch-up, and it has hurt us."
The city's next budget workshop has been set for 6 p.m. Aug. 14 at City Hall.
Public hearings will be in September, and the 2012-13 fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.