BROOKSVILLE — Facing a $405,000 budget shortfall, Brooksville City Council members are looking at several cost-saving proposals they hope will help the city avoid having to increase its property tax rate.
In the budget summary presented at a council workshop last week, City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha outlined the grim challenges. For the fourth year in a row, the city will see property tax revenues shrink because of falling property values.
The estimated 2011-12 budget of $7,428,799 includes no provisions for capital improvements or outlay. But Norman-Vacha warned that simple belt-tightening and further staff layoffs would only diminish city services to the point where taxpayers would suffer.
Council members agreed to look at several measures they hope will be enough to balance the budget and still maintain acceptable service levels.
From shortening shift times for firefighters to the elimination of fee waivers for events and fairs to closing the Quarry Golf Course, and even a modest increase in the property tax rate — all ideas are on the table, said council member Joe Bernardini.
"We're at a point where we're facing some hard facts," Bernardini said. "Just about every idea is worth looking at right now."
Perhaps the most sweeping proposal came from council member Lara Bradburn, who suggested that staffers look into firefighters switching to shorter shifts.
Firefighters currently work 24-hour shifts, then have 48 hours off before reporting back to work. Bradburn suggested that by switching to 12-hour shifts, fewer people would be needed during night hours when call loads drop.
"I don't think you would see a falloff in service because the bulk of the calls the department makes are during the day," Bradburn said. "Right now, we're paying people to sleep."
Bradburn also said the city needs to more closely examine its expenses for firefighters' pensions, which have increased by nearly 58 percent in recent years, from $123,063 during the 2006-07 budget year to $215,065 this year.
"The city pays 31 percent into their retirement fund and only 16 percent to other employees," Bradburn said. "There has to be a better alternative."
Bernardini proposed looking at other cost-cutting measures, including shelving the current agreement with the Hogan Law Firm, which earns a minimum of $157,500 a year for its work with the city.
Bernardini believes the city could find someone to do the job more cheaply.
"It's nice to have a Cadillac, but sometimes you've got to drive a Volkswagen," he said.
Bernardini also acknowledged that upping the tentative tax rate above the current 6.37 mills would provide some cushion in case other cuts aren't enough.
Bernardini said that a modest rate tax increase, coupled with additional cost reductions, would be the most palatable alternative, because many property owners would still pay less than last year because of decreased property values.
"It may not be the ultimate solution," he said, "but it's at least worth looking into."
The budget will be subject to two public hearings before the council approves it. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1435.