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Brooksville council approves budget with 2% property tax increase

BROOKSVILLE — Faced with another cautious year of falling revenue and rising costs to provide services, the Brooksville City Council voted 4-1 Wednesday night to adopt a $6.8 million 2013-14 budget.

It's a budget that includes a modest across-the-board cost-of-living pay raise for city employees, plus about $900,000 for road improvements, $600,000 of which will come from red-light camera fines. The plan calls for about a property tax rate of 6.7317 mills to support the general fund, and a fire assessment rate of 0.90 mills. Combined, the figures amount to about a 2 percent tax increase over what property owners paid last year.

Reiterating her message to council members at a budget hearing last month, City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha said that financial constraints remain a real concern for city residents and business owners, and that balancing difficult decisions that can benefit a "diverse community with diverse needs" likely will be the city's mantra for some time to come.

"We have to do a lot with limited resources in a fragile economy, and that's not easy," Norman-Vacha said.

Chief among concerns expressed by some council members have been uncertainties over the city's Fire Department. Vice Mayor Kevin Hohn said he voted against the budget's adoption because he felt the city needs to seek a cheaper alternative to funding a department that takes up 24 percent of the overall budget.

Others, including council members Joe Bernardini and Frankie Burnett, feel that at the least the city should consider tweaking the two-tiered fire assessment, which they say doesn't fairly spread the burden of fire service to all property owners. Under the current methodology, all property owners pay a $106 flat fee, plus a .90-mill assessment based on the value of improvements.

Bernardini, who initially voted against the proposed budget because of perceived inequities for the owners of undeveloped land, said he would like assurances that the council will reconfigure the fire assessment methodology in the coming year.

"It's not right to charge someone who has only a vacant lot the same as someone who has a structure on it," Bernardini said. "That needs to be changed."

The council agreed to address Fire Department issues during a workshop in February.

While council members were eager to support a 3 percent across-the-board cost-of-living pay increase for city employees, most said they were uncomfortable extending the same to themselves.

And, although the council decided earlier to set aside $10,000 for the possible reintroduction of fluoride to the city's water supply, the council shunned the subject entirely Wednesday night.

The issue will be revisited at the council's Oct. 7 meeting.

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

Brooksville council approves budget with 2% property tax increase 09/26/13 [Last modified: Thursday, September 26, 2013 8:41pm]
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